It's Holy Thursday in the Orthodox Communions
While those of us in the Protestant and Roman Catholic traditions have celebrated Easter Sunday, our siblings in the Orthodox tradition are traversing their Holy Week. Like most of us who observed Holy Week last week, they will be observing each of these events from the safety of their homes, perhaps utilizing some form of online experience. That is true of the local Greek Orthodox church in Troy, whose website I checked.
Holy Thursday in Orthodox, like with Roman Catholic communities, focuses on the institution of the Eucharist by Jesus, the washing of the feet of the disciples, the prayer in Gethsemane, and the betrayal of Jesus by Judas.
Different traditions have different ways of observing this event, but we all feature the same elements. We may interpret them differently. We may have different liturgies, but the elements are there. Regarding the institution of the Eucharist, which the Orthodox speak of as the Mystical Supper, I found this word on the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Amerca website. I wanted to share the opening two paragraphs because they speak to meanings that at least in my tradition might miss. The Orthodox tradition doesn't teach transubstantiation, which emerged in the Latin church later in the medieval period. But it does speak of a participation in the body and blood -- but in mystical and sacramental terms. I share this as a way of enriching understandings in my circle, but also as a way of being in solidarity with a different tradition from my own.
At the Mystical Supper in the Upper Room Jesus gave a radically new meaning to the food and drink of the sacred meal. He identified Himself with the bread and wine: "Take, eat; this is my Body. Drink of it all of you; for this is my Blood of the New Covenant" (Matthew 26:26-28).
We have learned to equate food with life because it sustains our earthly existence. In the Eucharist the distinctively unique human food - bread and wine - becomes our gift of life. Consecrated and sanctified, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. This change is not physical but mystical and sacramental. While the qualities of the bread and wine remain, we partake of the true Body and Blood of Christ. In the eucharistic meal God enters into such a communion of life that He feeds humanity with His own being, while still remaining distinct. In the words of St. Maximos the Confessor, Christ, "transmits to us divine life, making Himself eatable." The Author of life shatters the limitations of our createdness. Christ acts so that "we might become sharers of divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4).
I will have to discuss the message offered by Maximus the Confessor with my son, who has an interest in this particular theologian. How might Christ transmit "to us divine life, making Himself eatable"? I do appreciate the idea that this is a mystical supper. As I contemplate these words, may this be a blessed Holy Thursday for all who follow the Orthodox calendar.