11th Sunday of Luke
In today’s Gospel parable, the salvation of mankind is likened to a man inviting others to a supper. It is obvious that, among the many different interpretations of the Lord’s parable, the primary reference made here is to that supper that you have all gathered at today, the Mystical Supper of the Divine Eucharist, Holy Communion, which is the centre and summit of our spiritual life, and a revelation of God’s Kingdom here on earth.
So, what is Holy Communion and what does it do? We know that bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ at the Divine Liturgy, but what does this mean?
We can find the answers in the Holy Scriptures. After the Ascension of the Lord, the Apostles gathered in Jerusalem for the first Holy Council in order to answer a debate that was raging in the first Christian communities: namely, whether it was necessary for Gentile converts to Christianity to follow the Old Testament Law (Acts 15). The answer given to the Apostles by the Holy Spirit was that it was not necessary for them to follow the ritual laws of the Old Testament, such as circumcision and not eating certain unclean animals, except for the commandments relating to physical relations, the worship of idols, and the eating of blood.
The reason for this was that these commandments were given first, not to Moses and the Israelites, but to Noah after the Flood, and therefore applied to all of humanity: “Flesh with the blood of life ye shall not eat” (Gen. 9:4). “Ye shall not eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood; everyone that eats it shall be destroyed” (Lev. 7:14). The decision of the Apostles to uphold the commandment forbidding blood was also upheld by the Quinisext Ecumenical Council in the 7th century, which shows that it continues to apply to Christians today: “If, therefore, anyone from now on should attempt to eat the blood of any animal, in any way whatsoever, if he be a clergyman, let him be deposed from office; but if he be a layman let him be excommunicated” (Canon 67)
The reason I mention all these things is because the purpose of this commandment to not eat blood is to show us the meaning and purpose of Holy Communion, that blood is identified with life. This is why the Lord says in the Gospels, “Verily, verily, I say to you, unless ye should eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, ye have no life in yourselves. The one who partaketh of my Flesh and drinketh my Blood hath eternal life; and I will raise him up in the last day” (John 6:53–54).
With the union of the two natures in Christ (the divine and the human), the human nature is divinized and filled with the divine energies. It is this divinized human nature of Christ that we partake of in Holy Communion. When we receive the precious Body of Christ, we become members of his Body — the Body of the Church, in other words — and when we receive the pure Blood of Christ, the Lord imparts his life to us.
As we know, if the blood supply is cut off from any part of our body for a long period of time, it will eventually wither and die, and will need to be amputated. The same is true of the Body of the Church. Without the Blood of the Lord, without Holy Communion, the members of the Church become dead and withered. This is why frequent participation in Holy Communion is so important. Let us not reject the Lord’s invitation and be absent from his supper, because, as we see from today’s parable, he does not accept any excuse.
Of course, there is the question of preparation. As St Paul says, “Our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29), and if we come to Holy Communion without adequate preparation, this fire will consume us rather than enlighten us. But the solution here is not to reduce the number of times we commune, but rather to increase our effort to prepare, through regular prayer, confession, fasting, and, first and foremost, acts of love towards our fellow man. Because when we speak of Holy Communion, we do not only mean communion with God, but also communion with all others who partake, with all the members of the Body of the Church.
This is why the synaxis, the gathering, of the faithful is a prerequisite for the Divine Liturgy to take place, just as forgiveness is a prerequisite to our participation in Holy Communion. This is also why we are not permitted to receive Communion outside of the Divine Liturgy, away from this gathering of the faithful. Our reception of Holy Communion must never be something we do as individuals, it must never be seen as a blessing I receive just for myself. If this is how we think of Communion, then it would be better for us not to partake, because such an individualistic and selfish approach to the Mystery will not withstand that “consuming fire”. Holy Communion is precisely that: communion. Communion and union with God, and communion and union with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
You have received the invitation. The Lord has prepared the table. “Come, for everything is now ready” (Luke 14:17).
Fr Kristian Akselberg