The Bread and the Wine

June 10, 2014 Length: 54:08

Fr. Thomas looks at the significance of using leavened bread and real wine for the Eucharist.





We’re now into the Liturgy of the faithful in these last podcasts, and we went through the various preparatory activities that take place at the altar in the sanctuary with the singing of the Cherubic Hymn, that those preparations are a personal prayer for the clergy. Then there is the incensing of the altar area and the people. There is the recitation of the 51st Psalm, and the clergy themselves three times recite the Cherubic Hymn. At the end of that, the celebrant bows to the people, asks forgiveness. If it’s a presbyter, he will kiss the antimins with his bishop’s name, ask forgiveness of the faithful, and then go to the table to the left of the main altar table in the Greek Orthodox churches, in the left, which is called the table of oblation, there to finish the preparation of the bread and the wine for the holy Eucharist and then to carry these gifts—that’s what the bread and wine are called, the gifts—in the Great Entrance, the great procession around the church where, upon the altar table, is offered the bread and the wine for the eucharistic sacrifice, the eucharistic meal.

So we’re going to discuss the bread and the wine today, and then we will move ahead to discuss the whole issue of this ritual of preparation of the bread and the wine that is offered at the Divine Liturgy. It’s a very complicated history. The present rite of the preparation of this bread, which we’ll go through in detail. You will see that I have many questions about it, difficult questions, questions of trying to understand what is happening here and why we are doing what we are doing and why it is done the way it is done. We’re going to have to discuss this in some detail, but for today we just want to get into the very beginning of this particular activity, when the celebrant of the Divine Liturgy and then the co-celebrants—the priests, the deacons—go to the oblation table, the so-called oblation table, where the bread and the wine is prepared for the offertory procession.

If a bishop is serving, he goes there and he completes the ritual of the preparation of the bread and the wine and covers the gifts with the altar covers, and then then bishop goes back into the front of the altar table to receive the gifts from the hands of the deacon who is carrying the bread and the presbyter who is carrying the cup, and to place this offering of bread and wine upon the main altar table. When a presbyter is serving as the chief celebrant and there is no bishop present, then the main celebrant will come to the oblation table, and the rite of the preparation of the bread and wine will be already completed, because it is done before the actual entire Liturgy begins. When a bishop serves, it’s completed at this point, but the greater part of it is already done by the presbyter. Sometimes [it is] the youngest presbyter who does that ritual activities in preparing the bread and the wine for the offertory procession and for the ultimate communion of Christ’s body and blood at the holy Eucharist.

So let’s go through this activity, and today we’ll just speak about the bread itself and the wine itself as it was used through history, and then come to how it is used today, making and showing even how sometimes there’s a little bit and more than a little bit of contradictory understanding about what is done and why. But we’ll get into that right now.

As I mentioned, if you’re a member of the faithful congregation and you’re facing the altar area, facing east, and you’re looking at the altar, you’ll see in the church, on the left-hand side of the altar table area, another table on which is sitting the bread and the wine and the diskos, the plate, the patten, on which the bread will be carried, and the chalice, the cup, in which the wine will be carried for the offertory. This offertory procession is called prosphora, and even the bread itself is called prosphora, which means offering. The total ritual is called prothesis, which means a kind of preparation, or proskomedia, in Slavonic, proskomidi, which means a kind of conveying something to its proper place. It’s also a preparation type of word which has different interpretations.

Here I would suggest if you’re truly, deeply interested in this issue, just go online and type in “proskomedia” or “prothesis” or “eastern liturgy,” and you’ll get plenty of information with photographs and everything else, how this is done today. It’s very rich material and very well done. But if you read the various explanations that exist on the internet, you’ll see that there are differences in interpretation and even in the ritual there are different details within the different Eastern Orthodox Chalcedonian churches. Then you could mention also that the other Eastern churches also have this ritual: the Coptic Church of Egypt, the Syrian Jacobite churches, the Armenian Church; they have this ritual of preparing the bread and the wine for holy Communion in a very ritualized way.

There’s certainly no doubt that this whole ritual of the preparation of the bread and the wine is quite late in Christian history; certainly in Eastern Orthodox history it’s quite late, and probably was only introduced in the Church in the 13th or 14th century, which is almost halfway through the second millennium of Christian history. In the first years, you have many things happening that lead up to this point, but you do not have a ritualized preparatory rite in itself for the preparation of the bread and the wine which Fr. Taft called a kind of “pre Mass,” an oblation that begins earlier, but it becomes very detailed.

We’re going to go into those details, but for now we want to see that there is this table. Sometimes it’s within the altar area itself, within the sanctuary, we can say, in the back, left-hand side, and the procession with the bread and wine will be made through that deacon’s door and in and around the church to the altar. But sometimes in churches, in the earlier churches, and now in more recently constructed churches, in America for sure, there’s often a special alcove for the table of the oblation where the bread and the wine is sitting and where it is prepared for the offertory procession.

Sometimes it’s a separate room, even. I know at St. Vladimir’s Seminary chapel and in other places you see this in the Antiochian cathedral in Wichita and other places, that this oblation table and its placing is actually outside the sanctuary; it’s not within the altar area. You go into a kind of a special location, a special room, oblation room or oblation alcove that is by itself, not within the sanctuary area. But every Eastern Orthodox church has this table, either in the sanctuary area or outside it in a special location, a special room or alcove for doing this ritual. But it’s there.

It’s there, and the ritual is done, the greater part of it is done by the presbyter, perhaps even the youngest presbyter, before the actual Divine Liturgy begins, at the very beginning, so that it’s already there, primarily already set up for the offertory entrance, the Great Entrance. As I mentioned, when a bishop serves, it’s not completed at that time by the presbyter, but the bishop himself completes the ritual just at that moment in the Liturgy when the Cherubic Hymn is being sung, where he adds his own preparatory prayers, his intercessory prayers. He does so by putting particles of bread on the diskos, on the plate where the bread is. We’ll talk about that later. And then he does the completion by covering the bread and the wine with the altar cloths, because they’re led in procession at the offertory procession, the Great Entrance, covered. The bread is covered and the chalice is covered, so you see the clergy carrying the plate and the cup, covered with special vesting. And there are prayers for all of that which are done.

But again, just to say for today, to get ourselves into this, we’ll raise some following reflections about the bread and the wine itself that is used at the Divine Liturgy and today is used in churches of the Byzantine Eastern rite. That means Eastern Orthodox churches, all of them, and the Eastern Chalcedonian churches that are united to the Church of Rome: the Greek Catholics. This ritual is identical in both, but there are differences between the Slav practice and the Greek practice which we will note in due time.

So you come to that table, and there’s bread there and there’s wine there. It seems pretty certain that for the first thousand years of Christianity, both in East and West—in the Western Church as well as in the Eastern churches—the bread that was offered at the holy Eucharist was basic leavened bread, a kind of loaf of bread like would be eaten at any meal, a simple type of bread, but definitely leavened; both in the West and in the East, it was leavened bread that was used for, perhaps the first thousand years or more, all over Christendom, in every church. It’s pretty safe to say that in the earliest Church, of course, especially under persecutions, before Constantine, before the establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the Byzantine Roman empire, that there wasn’t any particular special ritual of this bread. Just a loaf of bread was brought, a roundish loaf of bread, and a cup of wine.

Even today, I believe in the Latin Church, there isn’t any particular preparation of the bread—which is now unleavened in the Roman Catholic rite as well as in some high Anglican churches and Lutheran churches; they used unleavened bread, which came in quite late in the West, certainly only in the second millennium. But it’s just brought to the altar and offered, sacrificed, and consumed by all the faithful, beginning with the clergy. I believe it’s very accurate to say that the use of leavened bread in the holy Eucharist is the most ancient practice. It’s virtually certain that the first Christians and the early Christians of the first millennium of Christian history definitely all used leavened bread, not unleavened bread.

This leavened bread—leaven, of course, is yeast, and leaven has a kind of double, contradictory meaning in Scripture. It has a kind of a very positive meaning, like “The kingdom of God is like leaven that a woman places in three measures of flour, and then it’s kneaded until it is all leavened,” raised by this yeast that’s put in there; but then there’s also a negative use, like “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, the scribes and Pharisees,” Jesus says. But then positively in the writings of St. Paul, you have the teaching about leaven again, the leavened bread, that you find in 1 Corinthians 5, and then the same sentence is found in Galatians also in St. Paul’s writings, that say, “The little leaven leavens the whole lump.” So there’s a sense in which this leaven is going on. Some people even think there was a leaven of the bread of the earliest Eucharist among Christians that was then kept and passed over in history, that sometimes with new churches they would bring the leaven from a Christian church already for the Eucharist, then to use that leaven to bake their bread for the eucharistic offering.

This leavened bread… Let me read that line from the Corinthian letter concerning that [bread]. It’s very important, because in the Eastern liturgical tradition, this is what is read liturgically at the end of the vigil, the matins service, at the end of Great and Holy Saturday, the Sabbath of the Lord. There’s a procession made with the image of the shroud, Jesus, going around outside the church, with the singing of “Holy God, holy Mighty, holy Immortal, have mercy on us” and then there’s the reading from Ezekiel about the dry bones that are going to be raised from the dead, which is an imagery which applied to Israel, but then became applied to Christ himself as being raised and resurrected from the dead.

So this is read, this Corinthian [reading], melded together with the Galatian reading; it’s read actually on the blessed Sabbath, the day right before holy Pascha, the Easter, the celebration of the resurrection of Christ. This is the reading for the liturgy there, the end of matins liturgy, which will then enter into the Divine Liturgy of Basil the Great the next day, where the reading will be about the Eucharist as described by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11, about eating and drinking the Lord’s supper and participating in the very body and blood of Christ. Then, of course, you have for the gospel the reading from the narration of the Last Supper, Jesus taking the bread, taking the cup at the meal, and saying, “This is my body, broken for you. This is my blood, shed for you.”

What it says in the Corinthian letter is that the Christians are saved by Christ who is the Paschal lamb that is offered and killed. Then he becomes Christ the Great High Priest who offers himself as the lamb, and that priest, as we will see, will be according to the order of Melchizedek. It’s a New Testamental priesthood that replaces the Levitical priesthood of the Old Testament. We’ll talk about that in a minute, too, but we just want to see here this reading about leaven. St. Paul writes—and this is definitely Pauline. Corinthians, Galatians are Pauline for sure; all scholars agree. He says:

Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump. [Then it says:] As you really are unleavened.

How can that be? Leavened, but really unleavened. Then it continues:

For Christ, our Passover (or RSV says “our Paschal lamb”; I think originally it just says “our Pascha”) has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival (of the Passover, Easter), not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil (and then it says) but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

It’s kind of hard to understand. It’s leavened and unleavened; unleavened, leavened. One is good, one is bad. No, what is happening here? I think I would say how I understand it is: There is this old leaven; there is this old lump, of the priesthood of the Old Testament, the sacrifice of the Old Testament—the lambs, the cows, the bulls, and all that—but now you have a new sacrifice, a new priesthood, in the new covenant. It’s not according to Aaron and Moses and the temple high priests who offer the sacrifices on behalf of their own sins and the sins of the people, but it’s the new sacrifice of Jesus Christ himself in the new priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek.

This Melchizedek, he is mentioned in Genesis 14 and several times in the letter to the Hebrews, which is the great document, the great treatise, about understanding priesthood in the New Testament, which is the priesthood of Christ himself and the priesthood according to Melchizedek. If you go to Genesis to hear the origin of that particular narration, this is what we find in the 14th chapter.

Abraham, after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet Abraham in the valley of Shaveh, that is, the kings’ valley, and Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine.

He brought out bread and wine. This is in Genesis.

He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abraham, and he said, “Blessed be Abram (who’s still named Abram at this point) by God Most High, Maker of heaven and earth, and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hands.

Then it says that Abram gave to Melchizedek figure a tenth of everything that he had. It’s going to say in the New Testament that this Melchizedek, who is king of Salem, nobody knew his generation. Nobody knew where he came from, but he’s called the king of peace, the prince of peace, the king of Salem, the holy priest. Zedeka means sanctified; Melek means king. And his offering was bread and wine, and that’s all you hear about it in the Old Testament until you come to the psalms, where the psalms are saying… For example, the most-repeated Old Testamental psalm in the New is the 110th psalm, which is saying that “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand till I make your enemies your footstool,’ ” and that’s related to Jesus Christ in the New Testament.

He is the Lord to whom the Lord says, “Sit at my right hand,” the one God and Father Lord Yahweh. Then it says, “The Lord sends forth from Zion his mighty scepter (your mighty scepter). Rule in the midst of your foes. Your people will offer themselves freely on the day you lead your host upon the holy mountains.” And that’s important, because we’re going to see that the offering at the New Testamental Divine Liturgy is where the faithful people are offering their own bodies, their own blood, together with the body and blood of Christ, to God the Father, and therefore they themselves become living presence of the real presence of Christ in the world, because they—we have sacrificed ourselves to God together with our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. We’ll get into that in great detail as we go through these liturgies, Basil and St. John Chrysostom liturgy.

But then it continues: “Your people will offer themselves freely on the day you lead your host upon the holy mountains. From the moon on the morning, like dew your youth will come to you.” In the Septuagint it says, “Out of the womb before the morning star have I begotten you.” Then it says: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind.” This is a promise that’s sworn by the Lord, and he uses himself as witness. “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” So you have Melchizedek mentioned in the psalms and then in the letter to the Hebrews, over and again, and he is this mysterious figure. Nobody knows his generation, doesn’t know where he comes from. He appears to Abraham; Abraham gives him tithes. He offers a sacrifice of bread and wine. That’s the great prefiguration in the old covenant, in Genesis already, of the New Testamental priesthood. That’s how Christians understand that.

Now, this bread and wine, it’s artos; it’s leavened bread that is spoken of there, just regular bread. So you have this use of regular bread and grape wine, red grape wine, usually on the sweeter side is used at the Eucharist. We’ll speak about preparing that. But as we see the bread and the wine now, we focus on the wine as being wine, red wine, not grape juice, not unfermented. Oinos means wine. Jesus took wine at the Supper, and that’s what is used, so of course the churches of ancient catholic tradition use real wine in the holy Eucharist, whereas some Protestants nowadays use grape juice, and some don’t use anything, like the radical wing of the Reformation who has no eucharistic service whatsoever, like Quakers for example.

But in any case you have the earliest teaching that Jesus is the high priest who offers. He himself is the bread that is offered. He is the lamb that is offered. Here this bread is called in Eastern Orthodox tradition the amnos, the lamb. In the West it’s called host, hostia, which means sacrificial victim, but in the East it’s the lamb, but it’s not only the Paschal lamb. It’s not only the lamb that’s slain; it’s the Lamb of the Apocalypse, the Lamb that is victorious, the Lamb who through humility and meekness and innocency and total goodness and love conquers death—the victory of the Lamb. If you read the Apocalypse, that term, Lamb, in that text, Amnos, is used over 35 times. “The Lamb, the Lamb, the High Priest and the Lamb.” And that’s all according to the order of Melchizedek.

But that bread, it seems, from the earliest history in Christianity, was just regular leavened bread. Nowadays, this bread is made, it’s baked, in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. It is made up of pure wheat flour, water, yeast, and a bit of salt. Those are the only things that are put into the eucharistic bread. I think certain times people sneak other stuff in, like a little rosewater or something, so it will smell [nice], but basically it’s water in which the pure wheat is dissolved with leaven, and then this leavened water with the flour in is is kneaded and made into a round roll and it is baked and used for the Eucharist.

As history went by in the Eastern Orthodox churches, we’ll mention just here is that there came to be rules about who could make that bread. That existed pretty early on in the Christian Church, especially after the establishment, because the early Church were just all Christians: they came, they brought their bread, and they had the Lord’s Supper. But now you don’t have that. The Christians are now only a small percentage of the Roman Byzantine empire, they have this bread, people have bread, so it begins to develop to where the Christians bake their own special bread for the holy Eucharist. Very often it was baked by men, by the clergy, who prepared and baked this bread, with prayers and supplications and so on. The rule now today in the Orthodox Church—it’s sometimes not completely followed—is that that bread should be made by a man, not necessarily clergy, but that would be good, too, and even part of the clergy were the so-called bread-makers. They were considered among the clergy, but many were women. But the rule was that the women had to be elderly. They had to be past the menopausal part of their life; their period, menstruation had to stop. Women who were still menstruating and young girls were not allowed to make the eucharistic bread, and today among the strict Orthodox observers young girls are not allowed to bake that bread.

But there’s controversy about that, too, because John Chrysostom said this interest in menstruation and clean and unclean, it’s nothing but Jewish superstition. If these young women are baptized into Christ and they receive holy Communion, they are certainly qualified to participate in baking of the bread. I know in America a lot of churches for their youth groups, they do have sessions on baking bread for the holy Eucharist. Sometimes they do it all together. I’ve done that myself with younger people, including girls, and I got chastised when I was really young by one older priest, by allowing the girls to participate in making this bread, but it just seemed to me that this kind of ritualistic idea with the menstruation, the blood and all that, is rather, you know… It emerges during the fourth, fifth, sixth centuries, then it becomes really carved in marble in certain periods of Church history, about the exclusion of younger women making the church bread, the eucharistic bread, the prosphora, the offering bread.

But in the Eastern tradition from the earliest time and in the West for the first millennium, it was leavened bread. What were the reasons for that? Why was it the leavened bread? Because there was this positive imagery of the kingdom of God like leaven and that it was the bread of Christ who was no longer afflicted and the man of sorrows, but he is raised and glorified and is seated at the right hand of God the Father, and his priesthood takes all of us right into the sanctuary in the heavens, as the letter to the Hebrews says. So you have this artos as opposed to azymos, the leavened bread as opposed to unleavened, being used in the Eucharist because of the resurrected Christ and because, in St. John’s gospel, he even uses the term artos in the famous sixth chapter where he says, “Egō eimi artos tēs zōēs—I am the bread of life. I am the living artos. I am the artos that came down from heaven.” And artos always means leavened, although it could generically perhaps mean bread or substance or food, but when it’s referred to bread as such, it definitely means leavened bread.

The unleavened bread was connected with the bread of affliction, the bitter bread, the bread of sorrow, the bread that was used among the Jews, this unleavened bread, when they celebrated their affliction and the sorrow and the slavery that they had in Egypt. It would most likely be the case that, at the Paschal meal at the time of Jesus, it was unleavened bread that was part of the meal. However, the narratives about the Lord’s Supper do not use the term “unleavened”; they use the term “leavened”: artos. “Take, eat, this is my artos.”

Here there’s another important point about artos beside John 6 and Jesus being that artos himself, the leavened bread, and being leavened and raised and leavening the whole lump. But you have also the teaching that artos is the word used at the Mystical Supper itself. That leads some scholars to believe that the Last Supper, the Mystical Supper, at which you could say the Eucharist was instituted… But we do not accept the Scholastic view that the apostles were told to do it and they gave it to the bishops and it’s just simply a high-priestly rite in which the regular lay people are not involved; that’s simply not true. Everybody’s involved. We are all a kingdom of priests and prophets. We all offer the holy Eucharist; the whole assembly does, led by the bishops and the priests, but it is not simply an offering of the bishops and the priests.

Of course, later on in the Western Church, the Mass came to be much more connected with the death of Jesus on the cross. It was a re-living of the sacrifice. In fact, in Scholastic theology, Council of Trent and so on, it was the Roman teaching that every Mass celebrated by a priest, even in private, all alone, silent, was another Calvary; it was another re-crucifixion of Christ. If that would be the case, then you could understand why the azym or the unleavened bread would ultimately become adopted, because that particular unleavened bread was more connected with the affliction, the suffering, the sacrifice, and so on, and no doubt was the bread of the Passover meal at the time of Jesus.

But among the early Christians, you might say, it was not so; it wasn’t the idea that the Eucharist is simply a memorial of the Last Supper, doing what Jesus did historically using unleavened bread and simply connected with the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and in his passion and death. No! In the earliest Christian tradition and unto this day in the Orthodox tradition, the Divine Liturgy and the eating and the drinking is taking place in the kingdom of God. Jesus said, “How blessed they will be who will eat bread, artos, in the kingdom.” Then he says, “You are those who suffered with me in my affliction, and we will be together, and if you’re together with my affliction, you will be raised with me.” And the Christians in baptism were raised with Jesus. So the Divine Liturgy in the Eastern churches was eating and drinking in the kingdom of God with Christ as he is now at the right hand of the Father, being the High Priest that entered into the sanctuary not made by hands, in the heavens, into the very presence of God as the risen Savior who has overcome sin and death by his crucifixion, but is raised and glorified.

So it’s the communion with the raised and glorified Christ that takes place at the Divine Liturgy, not the Jesus of history, so to speak, whatever was happening there, which is confused, because the synoptic gospels have one version of the Lord’s Supper, when it was done, and St. John’s gospel has a different one. But it seems pretty clear that the earliest Church wasn’t so much connected with the Last Supper meal and the death of Christ, although St. Paul says we proclaim his death until he comes; the liturgical texts say we proclaim his death and confess his resurrection, and we are waiting for him to come and to come quickly.

In the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer that Jesus gave to the Christians to say… And there are two versions of the Lord’s Prayer in the New Testament. There’s the Matthew version, which we all Christians use as the liturgical version of the Lord’s Prayer, where when it comes to the bread it says, “Ton arton ēmōn ton epiousion dos ēmin sēmeron,” and that means this supersubstantial—epiousios means supersubstantial. In Latin, they actually translated it supersubstantianem panem, the supersubstantial bread is what we eat. That’s the bread of the future age. That’s the bread that Christ himself is. In the Lord’s Prayer, that’s what that means: Give us today the bread of the coming kingdom, who is Jesus himself, the bread of life. And the term artos is used.

And in Luke’s version, because there’s a Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, too, you have the same adjective being used, although the prayer is different. In Luke, the Lord’s Prayer is given not in a Sermon on the Mountain setting, but the disciples come to Jesus and say, “Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples,” and the Lord said to them, “When you pray, say: Father Abba”—there’s no “all”—“hallowéd be your name. Your kingdom come”—but it does not have “thy will be done.” Then it says, “Give us each day, or according to the day, kathemeron, our”—and then it has the same expression—”epiousios artos.” Give us the epiousion arton. “And forgive us our sins, as we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation and to trial during the final period of the tribulation. Let us stand when we are tested.” But that’s the version of the Our Father in Luke.

But both Matthew and Luke use the expression “supersubstantial bread, bread above all substance, the bread of the coming age, the bread of tomorrow,” so to speak. Give us today tomorrow’s bread, and tomorrow’s bread means the bread of the kingdom of God, which is Christ himself, our food and our drink.

So all of this is brought together, and it makes the case, the case of Eastern Orthodoxy, ancient Christianity, that the eucharistic bread really has to be leavened. It is not correct to use unleavened bread at the Eucharist, because Christ, our Pascha, has been sacrificed, and there’s a new priesthood, according to Melchizedek, and the offering is artos and oinos, regular bread and wine. It’s a meal, primarily, but it has sacramental dimensions because it’s Christ offering himself as this broken bread and spilled blood at this particular meal which the Divine Liturgy is definitely an anamnesis, a remembrance, of that Supper and of that meal, but it’s a remembrance of everything that came to pass for us: the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the sitting of the right hand, and the second and glorious coming. So the Divine Liturgy is an entrance into the kingdom of God. It’s the eating and drinking with Christ in his kingdom. It’s the eating and drinking of him as the bread of life, the artos tēs zōēs, or the supersubstantial bread, as it says in the Lord’s Prayer. That’s why the Lord’s Prayer is said just before we receive holy Communion at the Divine Liturgy. We’ll comment on that again.

Another practice in the earliest Church which is interesting on this point is that very often when other eucharistic centers were coming into being, and the bishop of a certain region could not be at all of them, but he assigned country bishops or presbyters to be proistamenoi, to stand forth at the celebration of the meal, the eucharistic meal, in the early Church there was a practice of carrying some of the bread—it was called fermentem, which is a word of fermentation from leaven—in the early Church you carried some of the bread of the bishop’s Eucharist, and you put it in the chalices, you put it into the Communion, of these other churches so that the bishop was connected to these other churches by carrying the bread of his Eucharist to these other Eucharists for people to receive it from the hands of auxiliary bishops or priests, presbyters. The governing bishop himself was not there.

So you have all of this kind of evidence and [it can be] difficult to unravel sometimes. Now, when that bread was being prepared in the earliest Church—and as I mentioned already the clergy took it over sometime and there were rules on who could do it and not do it, it had to be done with prayers—there was also use of seals. We know there are bread seals from eucharistic bread dating from the fifth and sixth century, where into this leavened bread a seal was made before it was baked. Sometimes that seal was the chi-rho that Constantine saw in the sky, standing for “Christos.” Other times it was other things, but what it came to be universally in the Eastern Orthodox Chalcedonian churches is a seal that says “Jesus Christ the Victor—Iēsus Christos Nika.”

That’s what’s sealed on the center of the eucharistic bread, and it is from that part of the bread that the actual communion is distributed to the people, because we’re going to see other bread is put on the diskos in later times, probably beginning around the 13th, 14th century, very late in Christian history, when a new mystagogical understanding of the liturgy was in fashion, which really was a radical change in understanding the holy Eucharist that took place in Eastern Christian history, which we will comment upon at some length in all of the subsequent podcasts that we will make on this subject about holy Communion and the bread and what is consecrated and what is not, what is given in Communion and what isn’t. But what we want to say just for now is: There were bread seals, and you find them in East and in the West.

But some of the more Judaizing churches even early on began to revert to azyms at the Liturgy, the unleavened bread. The Armenians had azyms, created a huge controversy: Can you use unleavened bread in the Eucharist? Well, the Armenian Church did. The Maronites also, a church in Syria, a Latin-rite–type church, also uses unleavened bread. Then unleavened bread came into the Latin Church. I think it was connected with the idea of the Eucharist as the sacrifice of the Mass, re-crucifying Jesus, as it were, in the eucharistic elements on the altar, a kind of a new Calvary type of understanding, which simply does not exist in Eastern Orthodox tradition at all.

But in any case, it was adopted in the West, and then it became universally adopted and defended that the eucharistic bread should be unleavened. It probably, around the eighth, ninth century and into the eleventh, it became universal in the West. So we know that in 1054, at the schism, the first schism and Great Schism between East and West, some people argued that the most violently debated issue in 1054 was the eucharistic bread. You had filioque problems, you had papal jurisdictional problems, but you also had this problem of worship and the problem of the bread.

At that time, in the middle of the eleventh century, the East was violently opposed to the use of azyms, and that became almost a dominant theological problem of the day. What do you use in the holy Eucharist? The East came to say, “It’s not the unleavened bread. It’s leavened. It’s got to be alive.” And the expression came for the azym as “dead bread”; they called it “dead bread.” Then they even brought in Christological heresies. They said, “If you use azyms, you’re an Apollinarian,” because the Apollinarians said that Jesus didn’t have a real soul, a real life, a real mind as a human being; the Logos was the director of Jesus and in the Incarnation he only took a body: he took up flesh and blood, but he didn’t take a human soul. And Gregory the Theologian argued radically against that in his letter to Cledonius. And then it became a practice to say that this is incorrect.

It was also connected with Judaizing, when you just began adopting Old Testamental practices in the New Testament Church, well, then you go to the azym, the unleavened bread, the bread of affliction and sorrow. We know that in many Western churches, not only Latin, but I remember my first time I was ever at a Calvinist celebration of the Lord’s Supper. First time I saw it I was struck by how funereal it was, how solemn, how they would crack that wafer and you could hear it break. It was definitely an affliction-and-sorrow ceremony and not a journey into God’s kingdom, following the risen and glorified great High Priest, Jesus Christ, offering himself to the Father as the Lamb of God who is victorious over the devil. It became really a church-dividing issue. I don’t know what would happen today if we tried to redo it. Some folks think that both practices became acceptable with a different type of eucharistic piety, but the East was always deeply critical of the Western eucharistic piety, the clericalization of it, the connection with the passion and death, the repetition of it in the priest’s offering this Mass. There was a huge difference and there is a huge difference.

Of course, in the Catholic Church today, you have Eastern rite churches who mainly hold the theology and spiritual life and eucharistic piety of the Eastern Church, but they are in communion with the Latins who don’t. And early on in the Greek Catholic tradition, only Greek Catholics could use that rite; everybody else had to use the Latin rite with unleavened bread. The Catholics of Latin rite were not allowed to participate in the Eucharist of the Greek Catholic churches, and the Greek Catholics in union with Rome were allowed to participate sometimes in the Latin practice.

But there [were] even rules, I mean, the great Ukrainian Catholic bishop, Andrey Sheptytsky, when he became Eastern rite bishop and his parents were there who were Polish Latin rite Christians, they could not receive Communion from him when he celebrated the Divine Liturgy. He went before his first celebration of the Divine Liturgy in the Eastern rite to a private chapel, and in Latin gave reserved unleavened bread wafers—only in the bread, not in the cup—to his father and his mother, because that is how they were by law constrained to receive the Eucharist, being Latin rite Christians. So it has a very checkered and unhappy history, this eucharistic bread.

But from very early on it was sealed, it was leavened, it was kind of close to the normal bread—and that was a big issue, too, because in the Western tradition by the Council of Trent, they tried to make every sacrament as different, as sui generis, than its natural foundation. In other words, the priesthood, for example, of the priests who were ordained was different in essence from the general priesthood of all believers, which was not the case in the Eastern Church at all. There was one great High Priest, Christ; there was the priesthood of all the believers who are baptized, chrismated, and participate in the Eucharist; then there was the ordained priesthood of the leadership of the Church who were the celebrants of the eucharistic meal. That was one of their main jobs: to preach and to conduct the liturgy, the eucharistic liturgy. So it was a great controversy through history, but we can say when all the dust settled, the Eastern Orthodox churches—Chalcedonian and even non-Chalcedonian—insisted on leavened bread in the Eucharist, except for the Armenians. Then the Latin rite and then the Protestants who were high church, like high church Anglicans or high church Lutherans, and even some of the Protestants at first, they use the wafer; they use the round bread.

By the way, that wafer was more convenient to Latin Christianity, because they began to adore Christ in the blessed sacrament that was put into a monstrance, and it’d be pretty hard to put a crumby—a crumbing—loaf of bread into any kind of monstrance, but the round, unleavened disk, wafer-type bread, which is hardly even compared to bread, it was made to be as different from normal bread as it could possibly be, but it was much more convenient, also, to put into a monstrance because it didn’t crumb. Here, the faithful people were all given their own wafer, their own Communion, so it was not taken from the one bread offered at that Liturgy. Very often the Communion in the Latin rite to this day during Mass even, during the eucharistic liturgy, is given from reserved Gifts, where you have a whole lot of consecrated unleavened wafers sitting there to be distributed to the faithful, only in the bread form, at any given Mass. So the people did not even receive the bread that they themselves had offered and prayed over and consecrated in holy Communion. They received the bread already consecrated by someone else at some other time.

Lots of troubles came up because of this practice of the unleavened bread in the West, and it became a really, at the time, radically church-dividing issue, and I’m certain that some Eastern Orthodox to this day would say it is a church-dividing issue. You cannot use unleavened bread in the Christian Eucharist. You simply may not, and you cannot. It is incorrect to do so, and it ruins, so to speak, and more than ruins, it kind of abolishes the whole sense that in holy Communion we are communing in the kingdom of God with the risen Christ and we have live bread, not dead bread.

And in the Eastern ritual before Communion, even hot water will be put into the chalice so that the wine would be warm to signify life. We’ll see that when that hot water is blessed and put into the chalice just before Communion. We say, “The fervor of faith, filled with the holy life-creating Spirit.” It’s the Spirit that vivifies the bread in the leaven, and the water in the chalice wine with the hot water. But we will see that in the Eastern rite Orthodox Church and Byzantine Church that the bread and the wine are prepared for the Eucharist on this table of oblation, and in the chalice is put real red wine and a little bit of regular cold water, because it claims that the Lord mingled the wine with water at the Supper. So a bit of regular water is put into the chalice, too, whereas in some churches, Latin, no water is put in; it’s just only wine without being mingled with water, as we’ll see the prayer says in the Divine Liturgy.

Of course, this whole thing is connected with what became the so-called mystagogical explanation of the liturgy generally and of the prothesis or proskomidi in particular, and a new book has just been published this very year by Fr. Stelyios Muskuris. It’s called Economia and Eschatology. It’s a book on the liturgical mystagogy of the Byzantine prothesis rite. It’s a long study of this ritual, but it’s deeply connected to the symbolical interpretation of the Divine Liturgy which would come to reign in Eastern Orthodoxy in later Byzantium and then through the second millennium of Christianity just until today.

I’m going to make a lot of critiques of that mystagogical understanding, as, in fact, in all intents and purposes, making the Divine Liturgy into an audio-visual aid that lay people just come and look at it and watch and it’s done by the clergy alone, who alone do it and for the most part are the only ones who receive Communion. Of course, that whole issue of lay communion was a biggie. I mean, there were some arguments in the Latin West in the early Middle Ages that maybe lay people who were baptized didn’t even need to receive Communion; the clergy would receive it for them, so they would come and observe it. They would attend it, they would hear Mass, but it wasn’t the Mass that they themselves had anything to do with as far as offering, consecrating, and receiving Communion.

So we will continue this reflection as we continue to go, but for today what we want to see is that the eucharistic bread in the Eastern Church is leavened. It is similar to everyday bread. The use of the term artos in the Scripture is very key, both in Genesis (Melchizedek) and in John 6 and in the words of the Mystical Supper, where Jesus uses the term artos which means leavened bread, and it became really not a negotiable point. The bread has to be leavened bread: pure wheat, water, and yeast and a bit of salt put in there, too. I’m not sure about that. I think [the] Jerusalem Church to this day doesn’t put the salt in, but most Byzantine churches do. And that’s the bread of the holy Eucharist that is being prepared to be offered, together with the cup and the chalice of regular wine, nice, good grape red wine mingled with a bit of water. That is what is done.

Now we’ll see next time how those breads are actually cut and put on the diskos, and then we have to engage in some very controversial issues about what is placed on the diskos and what the faithful people, beginning with the priests and bishops themselves, actually receive holy Communion from. What is the bread that is actually received in holy Communion? Is it all the bread that’s been put on the diskos in this greatly wide and mystagogical ritual, built on symbolical interpretation of Scripture, where even the prothesis becomes a symbol of Christmas? It’s the nativity of Christ that’s going on on the table of oblation. We’ll get to that again, but there’s a clash here of two different approaches to liturgy, and the early Christian approach, it seems to me, is what we’re rediscovering today and seeing all of the difficulties in the so-called mystagogical interpretation of the Byzantine liturgy, mostly as a dramatization of the life of Christ and an audio-visual aid with which the lay people, for all intents and purposes, have virtually nothing to do with.

So we’ll continue with this, and hopefully we’ll stir up a lot of confusion and a lot of questioning, because, as I like to say, better real confusion than false clarity. The minute you get into false clarity, you’re in big trouble. But in any case, we’re not in big trouble, and we are preparing our bread and our wine for the eucharistic offering, the prosphora, bringing it to the offering, the lifting-up, the anaphora, and this is the bread and this is the wine that we use, which very early in Christian history—fourth, fifth century—became a very specially prepared bread for that particular purpose.