Saturday, June 27, 2020

EP affirms non-negotiable nature of Eucharist


Between​​ June 23 - 25 2020, the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate was convened for its regular meeting of the current month at the Orthodox Center of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Chambésy, Geneva. On the first day, the chairmen of the synodal committees were engaged in their cooperative work. Many of the Hierarchs of the Throne in Europe were present as well.

During this meeting, the Official Letters of Their Beatitiudes the Orthodox Primates that had been received thus far in response to the letter of the Ecumenical Patriarch to them of May 17th of this year, on the issue of the mode of distribution of Holy Communion that emerged after the appearance of the coronavirus pandemic, were read and discussed. It was satisfactorily determined that their opinion coincided with that of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This consists of the following:

a) The Mystery of the Divine Eucharist is non-negotiable, because we believe that through it it is transmitted to the faithful the Body and Blood of the Savior Christ "unto the remission of sins and life eternal" and it is impossible that through this Mystery of Mysteries any disease might be communicated to those who partake. For this reason, the Church remains steadfast and immovable in its teaching towards the essence of the Mystery of Holy Communion.

b) As to the mode of distributing the ineffable Mysteries to the faithful, the Church, respecting Holy Tradition that is interwoven inextricably with the daily ecclesiastical practice and kenoitc experience, and as the guardian and vigilant watchman of those traditions handed down from the Holy Father, finds no need for a change of this mode, especially under pressure from external factors.

At the same time, the Mother Church, mindful of the special needs of Her children in the Diaspora, urges the Chief Shepherds who serve in the Diaspora that with a pastoral sensitivity, responsibility, and consciousness, to temporarily make, by economia, accommodations to problematic situations that arise from local laws of the State for the greater spiritual benefit of the Christian people, always in coordination with the Sacred Center at the Phanar.

In Geneva, 25, June 2020

From the Chief Secretariat

of the Holy and Holy Synod


  1. "The Mystery of the Divine Eucharist is non-negotiable, because we believe that through it it is transmitted to the faithful the Body and Blood of the Savior Christ "unto the remission of sins and life eternal" and it is impossible that through this Mystery of Mysteries any disease might be communicated to those who partake."

    Yet, everyone who partakes...Dies! Not only this, we are promised a cross by our Lord - it is through the cross and not around it (or over, or under, or...) that we are *born again* (the opposite of Life is not death, but birth!)

    No Sacrament (or any other act in this life) gets around this. These sorts of strong statements are only about theology on a certain level. What they are really about - obvious if you think for 1/2 second about the circumstances prompting them - is microbes and vectors. They are about *physics*, and not theology. This is tragic really, because being poor physics (and medicine) means they are also poor theology at the same time. Metaphysics done poorly is the ruination of theology and ecclesia - just ask the Roman Catholics.

    Docetism is not a denial of Divinity, but rather the humanity (and thus physics-cality) of Christ. The Docetic Eucharist is the denial of nature (including microbes and death) being "good enough" to be saved - a part of the "restoration of all things".

    It's too bad, because bad theology takes much more effort to correct than to create...

    1. Dear Jake,

      There seems to be some kind of odd philosophies out there. Its easily observable that until more recent church times (not sure when), the change spoken of in the Liturgy was that the bread and wine become literally the Body and Blood of Christ.

      The RCC defined a doctrine of transubstantiation. So Orthodox are allergic to this, I'd imagine due to misguided (and inaccurate) bias. At the same time, many many Orthodox Theologians had no qualms using the term transubstantiation alongside of the Orthodox understanding, the caveat being that sure, the Bread and Wine becomes the Body and Blood, but we have chosen not to elevate the Latin explanation in the same way. We have chosen to NOT define exactly how. This was in no way a repudiation of the reality. They all professed, along with all the Church Fathers and Saints, the change was a real one.

      You've posted something by Fr. Alexander Schmemann elsewhere. While he writes on the change, so have many others. But the more modern view that pits itself entirely at odds with the RCC teaching represents a teaching in isolation. It certainly doesn't represent a teaching stretching all the way back to the early Church.

      That isn't to say that transubstantiation, as laid down by the RCC is the end all and be all. But at the same time, ideas about consubstantiation and or some kind of consubstantiation can't work either. This isn't the teaching of the Church and finds no continuity with the Apostolic teaching on the Eucharist.

      As for the bizarre charge of Docetism, I'm puzzled where you picked that up from. I hope you drop it. You and I both know that Docetism is the denial of Christ having a body. It's a denial of His human nature. The Bread and Wine are not Human beings and neither is Christ body just "matter". It strikes me as gross kind of religious reductionism to put forth His Flesh as only material so that one can then launch into a comparison of bread and wine being equivocal to His Human nature. While I can see the logic, it makes for an impoverished theological exposition. Sure, in some ways, in our Theology, we recognize the Incarnation as profoundly impacting all matter, all things. At the same time, different materials are necessary for different encounters. The Waters of Theology come from water, no other thing can be used but water. Bread and wine must be used. Other things will not suffice. Christ took on a human nature. His human nature is hypostatically united with His Divine Nature; He is the GodMan.

    2. I'm sure that you'll completely disagree with everything I wrote thus far. Just fine.

      However, I am hoping you will finally answer the question I posed to you elsewhere. What happens to the nature of the bread and wine after the consecration? Does the bread and wine, at the level of nature remain bread and wine? Does the Bread and wine have three natures? Does Jesus Christ now have three (four?) natures, a human nature, a divine nature, and a bread and wine nature? If the bread and wine remains the bread and wine, How then do they become the Body and Blood of Christ?

      You see, I think a fundamental misunderstanding has crept in to our explanations of the Eucharist. We are to be made like Christ. That's Theosis. We are NOT to be made into Christ. There is one Jesus Christ; we will never be Him. But, we don't proclaim that the Eucharist is like His Body and Blood, we proclaim IT IS His Body and Blood. The analogies I've seen and read like to use material and matter and how it's coming into contact with Christ sanctifies it, etc etc. You yourself mentioned that miracles don't overturn the natural order (an argument reminiscent of sketchy modern RCC theology of natural miracles).

      The problem left unconfromneted by this view is that when it comes to the Eucharist, it is entirely different. The Eucharist IS the Body and Blood of Christ. Our Anaphora proclaims it. Our Theology teaches it. The change of the Bread and Wine is INTO His Body and Blood. It is not a change to be LIKE His Body and Blood.

      Interested to read your response (hopefully) to my questions. Many thanks!

    3. Fr. Alexis, I agree with at least half, if not most of what you said!

      I agree that the "Apostolic teaching on the Eucharist" is rather straightforward just as you say, an actual "transform" (that Greek word as used by the Fathers, Aristotle, and the entire Greek/Christian intellectual synthesis of the time - this is "metaphysics" that also implies a certain understanding of physics, since physics is a subset of metaphisics) of bread and wine into Body and Blood of Christ. This is the word used in St. Basil's liturgy at least.

      I stand by my use of 'Docetic Eucharist' as a useful description of normative Orthdoox theology on this subject in our history which is, just as you say, an apophatic "...we have chosen to NOT define exactly how....", excepting when we have. One example is the full throated acceptance of Latin transubstantiation (at the same time rejecting consubstantiality) of Dositheos in 1672 at the "Council of Jerusalem" ( Yes, Docetism is strickly speaking is a particular Christological heresy of a particular history and place, but then the Eucharist (as everything in Christianity) is quite obviously "Christological”.

      If we say something is "transformed", and we are speaking metaphysically and not merely physically and with a nominalistic conception of physics (i.e. modern "physics", science, and anti-metaphysical methodological materialism), well what do we mean? You see, we have a problem in that if the bread and wine are "transformed", they "literally become" His Body and Blood, how doe we account for that they still appear to be bread and wine? They still smell like bread and wine, the bread molds just like bread, the wine can "buzz" the priest (or the Deacon or even the communicant) just like wine. These "accidents" are what transubstantiation and consubstantiality account for and "explain" metaphysically and theologically (among other things). On the other hand, such an accounting (metaphysically, though perhaps not ontologically) is exactly what is avoided in (most) Orthodox theology through history.....

    4. .....You want me to answer the question as to what happens to the "nature" of the bread and wine - what is the relationship between breads nature and the nature of His Body specifically in the Eucharist. You want me to do exactly what Orthodox theology has studiously avoided, except when it has not. Transubstantiation and consubstantiality bot explicitly confront these questions about "essence/nature", and of course they both also bring with these answers all the problematics of doing metaphysical theology.

      We are now at one of these times with these strong statements around the bread/Body and celiac disease, and bread/Body/wine/Blood (and cups, spoons, clothes, and temples) and microbes, where some Orthodox are doing metaphysical theology, not explicitly but *implicitly* through (medical) physics. This is a back door way to do essentialism without actually doing the hard work of coherently linking your metaphysics with your theology, like what transubstantiation and consubstantiality do (rather you agree with the truth of them or not).

      In other words what is happening now is poor, lazy metaphysical theologizing. It is analogical to Docetism in this way as well - it avoids the obvious questions and problems.

      By the way, I think I am in agreement with Schmemann in that a Sacramental miracle is not an "overturning" of nature/essence, and not even an "overturning" of ontology, but rather a *fulfillment* of nature through an ontological change. This would be much more consistent with the implicit use of transform in most of the Fathers - explicitly by St. Maximus - and the presumptive metaphysics of the whole Christian/Greek synthesis of the first millennium.

      Interesting how you pose your questions (and want me to answer) in a different way - the "modern" way of essentialism of post Scholastic metaphysics that you and I (being modern men in culture, education, and time/place) were trained in our entire lives. In this mode and with these sorts of presumptions, I maintain that theologically with the Eucharist we are *stuck* in triad of transubstantiation, consubstantiality, and finally a docetic Eucharist that some want to claim is 'Orthodox' and 'Apostolic'. It can't be, because the Apostles and Fathers simply did not share the underlying presumptive metaphysics.

      One more thing, one "way out" that I see is a consubstantiality of sorts - one that recognizes and accounts for the bread and wine being transformed into His Body and Blood in a way compatible with the essence/ontological metaphysics through Time of the aforementioned synthesis that allows St. Paul to talk of the "restoration of all things" - all things (bread and microbes included) be-coming what they are meant truly meant to be.

      Hope this all makes some sense to you...

    5. Dear Jake,

      Thanks for your replies here. I follow everything you said here. I see your perspective and I "get" the view you offer here. I also see the issues you're hoping to address philosophically and theologically here. Thank you for taking the time to do that here. I can tell your knowledgable and learned.

      For me, point is just left unaddressed and side stepped. If it were a subject of lesser significance, I'd be content to leave it at that. I understand the argument of innovating bread and wine and changing them into what they are truly meant to be. For me, the serious shortcoming of that view of the Eucharist is a simple observation: food doesn't make you like God. Paraphrcsing the thought of St. Basil and the Church, if the Eucharist isn't the Body and Blood of Christ, it certainly can not make you like Him.

      The idea that exalted, consecrated bread and wine could make you like Christ seems not only a modern creation, but sadly, an impoverished one. The point of the Eucharist is to be made like Him. The controversy of Christ's Divinity with Arianism and the Pneumatomachians with the Divinity of the Holy Spirit are particularly instructive here. If Jesus isn't God, He can not make us like God. If the Holy Spirit isn't God, He can not make us like God.

      The Eucharist cannot escape this reality either. No lofty philosophy or amazingly informed metaphysical view can ever help the Eucharist escape the reality that unless the bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Christ, they can not make us like Him. If they are simply "like" the body and blood, then they can not make us like Him. Sure, they could impart some Grace. But then, they'd be just as any holy object. Of course, this isn't even possible following the very words of Christ, nor the witness of the Church, nor the continual teachings of the Fathers.

      Its really a rather simple question I posed here, presumptions or not. I believe that response was a sidestep. I commend your acknowledgment that you believe in some kinda of consubstantiation. I can not agree that this is even a possible teaching of the Church though. What is strange to me is that you've already said you believe in a kind of consubstantiation, but you won't say what happens to the nature of the bread and the wine, nor will you say how many natures Christ has. I am genuinely curious how you would explain this. Yet, acknowledging the impossibility of explaining this according to your own theology, you admit, it goes too far and that I am asking you to do something our Orthodox theology doesn't do: explain how the change happens.

      It seems plain to me, you've already explained how the change happens. The change is simply symbolic, in the degraded sense. Its isn't really a change at all. The fulfillment you speak of, ends up being a false equivalence. You say it becomes what it is meant to be, yet, in the world to come, there is no corruption, no mold, no decay. All this said about the Eucharist which we know can decay and mold. While the is beauty in such an analogy, I can't see how it is an analogy that really reveals the truth of the encounter. To receive the Body and Blood of Christ is to receive His Body and His Blood. It is not to receive bread and wine, not matter how lofty or exalted the wheat and grapes might be.

    6. Thank you Father for the clarity of your presentation.

    7. "...I believe that response was a sidestep..."

      I apologize Fr. Alexis if I was not being clear - I genuinely thought I was being obvious! Con-substantial, "with + substance" - meaning *two* natures/ousios/essence. I believe that the change (i.e. metaphysical 'transform') that takes place in the Anaphora is metaphysically an ontological one, a change in the *mode* of being, and not an essential one, a change (and thus annihilation) of nature/ousios/essence of the essential "breadness" and "wineness" of the elements (setting aside for now a more complex discussion of "compound" nature). I also believe that this belief about an ontological change is entirely consistent with "the mind of the Fathers", the Apostolic Tradition, the Scriptures.

      "...The change is simply symbolic, in the degraded sense. Its isn't really a change at all. The fulfillment you speak of, ends up being a false equivalence...I can't see how it is an analogy..."

      Why? Let's unpack these terms:

      1) "Symbol". Why do you say that I hold to a *nominalist* symbolism of the Eucharist? What is it about consubstantiality that is *necessarily* nominalist? Why can there not be a *Realist* consubstantiality?

      2) What is your presumptive metaphysics that leads you to deny consubstantiality as a Realist possibly - in other words, why are natures/ousios' necessarily dichotomous?

      3) Why is consubstantiality in particular, and metaphysical reasoning in general, a reasoning by *analogy*? You would not say your own particular belief about the meaning of "transform" in the the Anaphora is analogous, or (nominalistically) "symbolic". You believe (correct me if I am wrong) that the bread and wine really become the Body and Blood, and that this change is of nature - one nature before the Anaphora, and one after. There is not "symbolism" here, only Realist change - real "bread" before and real "Body of Christ" afterwards.

      I also believe this - Christ is Real and the Eucharist is really Him. Were we differ (unless I am mistaken) is that I don't believe the "bread" nature is annihilated - on the contrary it becomes (this is the difference between ontology and essentialism) its end, its truth, in the Truth that is Him - it becomes (ontologically) what it was created to be by God "originally". However, you believe that this is only "lofty metaphysics" - it is all nominalist because your particular brand of Realism presumes that natures are fundamentally dichotomous. Why?

      I believe, along with Schmemann (and others like Romanides, Hierotheos, even the likes of Zizioulas) that your dichotomous essentialism is NOT part of, nor or is it an expression of, the Apostolic Tradition. Rather it is an (unconscious) appropriation of western Scholastic metaphysics.

      Fr. Alexander called this dichotomous essentialism the "original sin" of western theology. To quote:

      "...once these dichotomies are accepted, it does not matter, theologically speaking, whether one "accepts" the world, as in the case of the Western enthusiast of "secular Christianity" {this is what Unknown and others crudely, and you in a more sophisticated manner, accuse me of - mere "symbolism" and thus the *denial* of His Body and Blood sacramentally} or "rejects" it, as in the case of the "Super-Orthodox" prophet..."

      Fr. Alexander never directly addressed the significance of this dichotomous essentialism and what he called "sacramental comprehension" in the context of the Eucharist as far as I am aware (perhaps I missed it), but he did in relation to the blessing of the waters. See specifically section 7 of "Worship in a Secular Age" in For the Life of the World.

  2. LOL. Humans have co-evolved with microbes over hundreds of thousands of years as tactile, social animals. If you find that too risky, maybe you should just live in your bedroom.

  3. What doe non negotiable mean? The ep just writes to be read.

  4. Jake comes across as a humanist masquerading as Orthodox, people do die after a long life, after taking communion, in many cases decades after taking communion their whole life, because of the Ancestrial sin that brought death into the world. Also if you dont prepare properly and repent, guess what , you too could die. If you dint believe in the literal blood, and body of christ, and thinks Chrust comes to sicken and kill, and not heal, you too could die. Lord have mercy.

    1. Christianity is filled with several paradoxical "both/and's". For example, Christ is *both* human *and* divine. It is not "humanist" to point out that a Docetic Eucharist, which these kinds of statements/theology are implicitly arguing for are based on an *oppositional* habit of mind which problematic in theology and historically caused all sorts of problems in the Church.

      "What has not been assumed has not been saved/healed" is the classic schematic (St. Gregory Naziazen)

      All miracles, including Sacramental ones, are not in *opposition* to the nature of our created humanity and the physical "stuff-ness" of the Cosmos. Christianity is not an anti-physic(s) philosophical position - that is what Gnosticism is.

      You can look all this up and confirm it for yourself, or you could apply a simple minded "either/or" decoder ring you call "humanism" and get it wrong entirely...

  5. Dear Jake and all here,

    If you haven't read this article by Hieromonk Chrysostom Koutloumousianos, please do.

    Really all the aspects we have all discussed here, especially what Jake and I are going around with, are succinctly covered and answered within a modern context. I've been able to meet and hear Fr. Chrysostom speak. He's great.

    Certainly its not an end all and be all, but it is a compelling response for our times.

    P.S.: Jake, I'd like to get your thoughts in this article too

    1. Just now saw this post Fr. Alexis,

      I have to work a bit at my day job now but will get to this later this afternoon/evening

  6. Thanks Jake.

    After some refection and discussion elsewhere today, I'm going to let this be my last post here on this thread. I appreciate your willingness to share your thoughts and perspective and I'm looking forward to reading your follow ups.

    I will have to leave off with two realities in the Gospel and comment that I feel essentially eviscerates any kind of possibility that our Theology accepts "consubstantiality".

    First, the comment, more of an observation. There are no examples of a thing have two essences, which, is inescapably what you've posited in the Eucharist with consubstantiality. I don't think you mean to do this, but there is no way in which the bread can be bread in essence and also be Christ also, alongside of being bread. The "thing" called Eucharist cannot consist of separate essences. I think there is a profound fallout in conflating nature/essence/substance. I think I know why you've done think and certainly understand the attempt to speak in more modern terms, as we are modern men. Perhaps that's were our actual disconnect is. I really have no desire to speak as a modern man when it comes to the Eucharist. Are the attempts successful? Perhaps time will tell. I'm not convinced.

  7. The second aspect are two examples from the Gospel which proves the death knell for an argument you presented earlier and by way of analogy, as explanation for what you claim is the metaphysics of your Eucharistic theology. You said "All miracles, including Sacramental ones, are not in *opposition* to the nature of our created humanity and the physical "stuff-ness" of the Cosmos" and also "Were we differ (unless I am mistaken) is that I don't believe the "bread" nature is annihilated - on the contrary it becomes (this is the difference between ontology and essentialism) its end, its truth, in the Truth that is Him - it becomes (ontologically) what it was created to be by God "originally" and again you said " I think I am in agreement with Schmemann in that a Sacramental miracle is not an "overturning" of nature/essence, and not even an "overturning" of ontology, but rather a *fulfillment* of nature through an ontological change."

    The two example from Holy Scripture are the Virgin Birth and the Wedding at Cana. She who never knew a man, whose conception was without seed, who gave birth to God the Word, does so in a manner past understanding. The order of nature is, in fact, overturned here. The "ontology" of the reality is really incomprehensible: She is a Virgin, She who knows not a man gives birth, this is conception without seed. This isn't an ontological change from one mode of being to the other, this is a Paradoxical reality which contravenes ontology.

    The Wedding at Cana also overturns nature. Water was never created to become in its fullest sense, wine. In order to have wine, you need grapes. Yet, Our Lord changes the water into wine. Its a change of one thing to another different thing.

    This is why I say, your analogy for consubstantiation fails. It's a beautiful one, but, it's neither Apostolic nor consistent with the witness of the Faith.

    I have to thank Fr. Christian Kappes, a byzantine Catholic priest for more succinctly making certain points I shared here. He wrote an interesting article which I think is a good read, whether one agrees with it all or not.

    1. Fr. Alexis,

      I have not had a chance (and won't tonight) to read the Koutloumousianos essay, but I have read this essay by Fr. Christian. Obviously an explicit argument for Orthodoxies full on acceptance of Latin transubstantiation and the metaphysics that gets you there. He lists several further examples from Scripture where a nature has been transformed, and sometimes annaliated, "essentially" and not ontologically.

      In your two and these further examples, the change is *physically* perceived and confirmed in this world. A virgin mother, water into wine, etc. are all like this. In the case of the Eucharist however, the bread and wine still appear, taste, smell, and affect (alcohol buzz, celiac reaction from the bread protein, the antiseptic qualities of all wine (and beer!), etc. etc.

      This is why transubstantiation, consubstatiality, and any other metaphysical theology you wish to add, affirm, or deny exist in the first place - His Body and Blood are not physically perceived and confirmed as in all these other examples.

      Now that celiac disease and microbes are seemingly "pushing" some Orthodox to dip their toes into metaphysical theology through these strong statements around faith, disease, and vectors, well should we not honestly admit what it is they are doing? The question answers itself, at least for me.

    2. Finally got around to reading Koutloumousianos. It makes me want read his book. I wonder how he would resond to the Celiac question - how is the "economy" (mode of being) of the protein altered (fulfilled?) in the Celiac suffer such that it does not fulfill its nature, at least those with a certain measure of "longing and faith"?

      That's the problem with this sort of anti-metaphysics, it becomes the moral bludgeon with which men like Met. Isiah of Denver get to ironically do metaphysics (and thus physics). Positively, it's a rejection of RC/Protestant metaphysics. It points to certain miracles, yet these miracles were *physically* confirmed - virgin births, blind seeing, and Christ rising from the dead...