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THE EUCHARIST

Homily оf His Beatitude Sviatoslav,
at the 50th International Eucharistic Congress
in Dublin, Ireland 16 June 2012

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever (Jn 6, 51)”

Most Reverend Bishops, Reverend Fathers,
Dear Participants of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin,

Glory to Jesus Christ!

We, the children of the Catholic Church from different countries and continents, rites and cultures, are gathered in this ancient city to celebrate, meditate and take part in the greatest gift, which our Saviour has given his Church – the mystery of the Holy Eucharist. It is providential that the closing days of the Eucharistic Congress coincide with the Feast of the Holy Eucharist according to the Julian calendar followed by many Churches of the Eastern tradition. As representatives of the Churches of the Christian East we wish to contribute to the congress events and share with you our understanding and celebration of this great mystery of the Church.

 

Take, eat, this is my body.

In John’s Gospel which we have just listened to, Christ describes himself as the bread of life that came down from heaven. He will give himself in this bread so that the apostles may be nourished at the Last Supper. He gives to them—and for them—his divine life which came down from heaven and which has been revealed in the mystery of the Incarnation. Our Saviour’s words allude to Israel’s journey through the desert. In those days the people of God were by God’s providence deprived of food which came from the ground or through human hands. The Lord applied here a strange pedagogical method: he gives his people bread that comes from heaven — manna. He teaches them in this way that the source of human life, its well-being and happiness, does not lie in man alone. Man does not possess life by himself, he can only receive it from its source which is the Lord himself: the One Living God of Israel. That is why Moses explaining this event says: “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth

of the LORD” (Deut 8:3). Speaking of himself as the bread which came down from heaven Jesus revealed that he is the Living God of Israel, the streaming source of everlasting life — the life of his heavenly Father which becomes available through the power of the Holy Spirit. He is the life-giving Word that comes from the mouth of the Father and becomes food, the means of giving life to man through the Holy Spirit. The apostles heard Christ’s invitation to eat this heavenly bread at the Last Supper for the first time when he said, “Take, eat, this is my body”. The everlasting life in God was revealed in the invitation to “Drink … this is my blood”. This gift was foretold in the desert by the image of the manna, announced by Christ as an invitation to eat his body and drink his blood, accomplished by him at the Last Supper, and fulfilled by his death and resurrection.

 

Drink, this is my blood of the New Covenant.

The Fathers of the Church often taught that the mystery of the Eucharist is the centre and the summit of Christian life, the antidote against death (farmakon athanasias). Jesus Christ invites us to take part in the heavenly bread and the chalice of life everlasting. By the power of the Holy Spirit he enters into our lives, fills us with divinity and makes us, communicants, members of his body which is the Church. St Cyril of Jerusalem teaches that in the mystery of the Eucharist the Lord transforms us to be “co-body and co-blood” with him (cfr Mystagogical Homily 4,3). Thus we may be partakers of the life of Christ’s Church, her living members, only through holy communion. By receiving in communion the body and blood of Christ we unite ourselves not only with our God – the source of all life, but also with one another. That is why the motto of our Eucharistic Congress is “Communion with Christ and with One Another”. St Paul writes, “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf” (1 Cor 10:17). Commenting on these words St John Chrysostom sees a similarity between the gifts consecrated during the Divine Liturgy and the transformation of the communicants. “What is this bread?—he asks. The body of Christ. What happens to those who receive Holy Communion? They become the body of Christ. And [that means] not many bodies, but one body” (Homily 24 on 1 Corinthians 2). For the Churches of the Christian East the Divine Liturgy is the most sublime way of celebrating and worshiping the body and blood of our Saviour, the summit of our prayerful ascent, penetrating the depths of communion between God and humankind, the sweetness and joy of the presence of the triune God in the life of his Church. “Our way of thinking reflects the Eucharist and the Eucharist confirms our way of thinking” — states Saint Irineus (Adversus haereses 4,18,5).

 

This is my body which is broken for you…

This is my blood which is poured out for you and for many… The mystery of the Eucharist is the highest manifestation of unity of the Church, the source of its mission, its preaching, its service to one’s neighbour and heroic witness of Christian martyrs and confessors to the faith. Of significant importance for the history of the Ukrainian Catholic Church is the fact that eighty years ago, here in Dublin, at the Eucharistic Congress of 1932, the representative of our Church was the Blessed Martyr Bishop Nicholas Charnetsky. Our Church gave the world, especially in the 20th century, many martyrs and confessors for the unity of the Church and to preserve the communion with the successor of St Peter as the visible sign and heart of universal unity of the one Mystical Body of Christ. As bishop of the persecuted Church, Nicholas Charnetsky untiringly celebrated the Divine Liturgy in prison and in exile, notwithstanding prohibitions and punishments, under extraordinary circumstances, and enlivened his faithful with the Eucharist. The Eucharist was the source of courage and perseverance of our bishops, priests, religious and laity. This Confessor of Faith (Charnetsky), together with his clergy and faithful, beatified by John Paul II on the 27th of June 2001 during the papal visit to Ukraine, attested to the Eucharistic faith of the Church: “Sine dominico non possumus” (we cannot [live] without the Lord [= the Eucharist]), proclaimed by the martyrs of Abitina in 304.

 

The communion of the body and blood of our Lord is the rule of life of the Church even today. The communion in the Lord’s love urges us to love and serve our neighbour, especially the one who most needs our help and is defenceless. It is impossible to be a participant of divine life, and at the same time refuse the service of our Saviour to man in need. When Holy Communion does not translate into a concrete show of love and mercy, then our Christian life is not complete. St John Chrysostom, rebuking such passive communicants, admonishes, “You tasted the blood of the Lord – and do not even recognise your brother! You disdain this table if you do not consider worthy of your food your brother who was worthy to sit at this same table with the Lord. God freed you from all your sins and invited you to his table. But even then you did not become more merciful” (Discourse on 1 Corinthians 21,5).

 

Celebrating the Feast of the Most Precious Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and strengthened during this Eucharistic Congress by the witness of the faith of the Church in various countries of the world, let us use the words of blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta in asking our Saviour that “our hours of adoration … be special hours of reparation for sins, and intercession for the needs of the whole world, exposing the sin-sick and suffering humanity to the healing, sustaining and transforming rays of Jesus, radiating from the Eucharist”.*

 

+ Sviatoslav
(Father and Head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church)