The Eucharist: The Re-Presentation of the Recapitulation (Part Two)

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The following paper was written in the year 2000.  It was formative and powerful as all the pieces of everything I had been learning about the Eucharist were put together.  It was written while a seminarian at Regent College in Vancouver, B. C., Canada.  I was not yet an Orthodox Christian, let alone ordained.  Note that the liturgical passages are mostly from western sources – I was a liturgical / sacramental western Christian at the time.  Also, some of the citations are from Protestant authors – after all Regent College is an evangelical seminary, yet the quoted authors impart wisdom, and their insights were employed in this paper.  It is a bit lengthy and will be posted in parts.


To participate in some activity, practice, or event is to experience that event.  One cannot truly understand the sport of tennis until one actually plays the game.  Unless one has had the exhilaration of hitting a crushing backhand winner, or knows the frustration of double-faulting at game point, one does not know tennis.  In like manner so it is with Christ:  one cannot know Christ until one participates in Christ, lives Christ, and walks as Christ walked – however faulty that may be at times.  In her book Missional Church, Inagrace Dietterich states that certain ecclesial practices cultivate, or form, the people of God into a culture that moves his people into an alternative way of life that is distinct rom the dominant culture.[1]  One of the criteria of an ecclesial practice is that it is experienced.[2]

At the heart of the Church’s life is the Eucharist.  The liturgy of the Eucharist is participatory from its beginning to its completion (and even beyond).  Every portion of the liturgy brings God and his saving acts into our contemporary situation by means of the liturgy.  This involves the concept put forward by St. Luke’s and St. Paul’s use of the word anamnesis, a recalling the re-presents those past, historical events into our present, contemporary setting.  The liturgical actions re-present to the worshipping community the life and salvation of Jesus Christ.  Thus, as with the Jewish Passover, the “Christ events” are our events, and the history of the Apostles and the first disciples is our history.

Concerning anamnesis, we read this from the Eastern Orthodox Divine Liturgy:
Remembering this saving commandment and all those things which have come to pass for us:  the Cross, the Tomb, the Resurrection on the third day, the Ascension into heaven, the Sitting at the right hand, and the second and glorious Coming,

Additionally, such liturgical participation within the community forms our perceptions, understandings, and gives us meaning.  This further shapes a people and makes them into what they are intended by God to be.  Regarding liturgical participation in worship Rodney Clapp writes,

It is fair enough to say, then, that Christian worship is practice in learning to see through common sense…It is culture that gives us the context from which we see and the categories by which we see.  It is through our acceptance of and participation in that mercy [God’s reaching out to us] that we are given the categories of creation, world, sin, reconciliation and Kingdom of God — the categories by which we claim to see “reality” as it really is…Learning to see reality this way requires induction and immersion into a controversial culture.[3]

That we truly know by contextual participation within a community is a liberating breakthrough in epistemology given to us by post-modern thought, although first understood by “pre-moderns.”  Therefore, to be God’s priests (and prophets, etc.) we must participate in the life of the High Priest Jesus Christ.  And this formation is not done in solitude.  We cannot make up our own priestly stories or practices.[4]  Hence, we must look to the priestly practice, the one that calls us to look to the Recapitulation as our contemporary reality and purpose.

Within the sacramental and liturgical traditions the most conspicuous and sublime priestly actions are found in the Eucharist.  One would assume that these actions are carried out solely by those ordained to the offices of bishop and priest.  These indeed have the responsibilities to carry out the most climatic parts of the liturgy within the eucharistic prayers, but actually, the bishop or priest basically presides with and in behalf all those assembled for the liturgy.  For there are other priests also present and also make offerings:  the entirety of the assembled people of God.  Furthermore, this gathering/assembly from the earliest times was seen as the first and foundational act of the liturgy.[5]  This first action of assembly is to be interpreted as participation in Recapitulation.  Added to this we and all things are represented by and contained within the bread and wine.  Bread and wine have also participated in assembly – the priests of God have assembled grains and grapes into bread and wine, and these gifts are brought into the liturgy for their own participation in it.  To God we offer the assembled representatives of ourselves and all of creation.  In the Divine Liturgy we have this, “Thine own of thine own we offer unto thee in behalf of all and for all.”  This is also seen in the first portions of the Roman Rite:

Blessed are you, God of all creation.  Through your goodness we have this bread to offer, which earth has given [6] and human hands have made [a priestly transformation].  It will become for us the bread of life…Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation.  Through your goodness we have this wine of offer, fruit of the vine and work of human hands [again, a priestly transformation].  It will become our spiritual drink.

This is not a “later innovation.”  The very ancient work of church order, the Didache contains this portion of an eucharistic prayer:

…We give thanks, our Father, for the life and knowledge which you have revealed to us through Jesus your Child; to you be glory forever.  As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountain tops, and after harvested was made one, so let your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Your Kingdom, for yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ forever.  (Didache 9: 3 – 4)

The theme of gathering together is evident in this part of the Dilate prayer, and so is the symbolism that the bread stands for something far greater than itself.  As Mary of Nazareth stood far beyond herself as Representative we can think, therefore, of these elements of the Eucharist in incarnational terms.

In the sixth chapter of his gospel, St. John uses various modes and aspects of the verb katabainein, to descend, to describe the “descendings” of Jesus Christ.  For example, in Jn 6: 38 Christ uses katabebeka (indicative, perfect) to describe his actual incarnation, and then the phrase “I am the bread which descended from heaven [o artos o katabas]” (Jn 6: 41) is quoted by the crowd to debate his claims.  Later in Jesus’ discourse the subject matter accelerates decidedly to the point Jesus intends:

“This is the bread which is descending [katabainon] from heaven, in order that whoever might eat of it might not die (Jn 6: 50).

I am the living bread which descended [katabas] from heaven:  whoever might eat of the bread will live forever” (Jn 6: 51).

Although this could be debated, these two verses, as I see them, are constructed by St. John in the form of a hebraic parallelism, specifically a synthetic parallelism.[7]  Contrasts exist among the aspects of the substantive participles.  First, in verse 50, and in reference to the presence of his body that is to be continually eaten, he uses the present katabainon.  Here, the durative, or present aspect of the substantive participle denotes a continual, ongoing qualitative action:  his continuing presence which he gives to be continually eaten.  Then, in verse 51 we find the synthesis:  Referring to the presence of his physical body of the Incarnation standing there before his hearers he uses the aorist katabas.  Here is the interpretation we are to make:  Jesus’ body present in front of his hearers is the very same body that continually descends, and is to be continually eaten by his disciples in the Eucharist.  His body is ever present.[8]

The Incarnation is re-presented to us by the eucharistic liturgies.  As the Incarnation of the Son, his sacrifice on the Cross, and subsequent resurrection and ascension brought about the Recapitulation, so too does Christ’s incarnational descent to the bread and wine sacramentally re-present Recapitulation for us.  In the Eucharist, by the power of the Holy Spirit as he is invoked in the epiclesis [9] of eucharistic prayers, Jesus again joins himself to representative elements of creation.  Then we and all creation, gathered together in Christ by this Sacrament, ascend to the Kingdom’s Banquet of relationship.  The future has broken into our present reality.  In this liturgical act of the Church there is, as Fr. Alexander Schmemann writes, “the union of the visible and invisible worlds, as the manifestation and presence of the new and transfigured creation.”[10]  In this we participate.  For this we prepare.  By this practice we are transformed to serve as priests before and for all and all things, in order that we might gather all things into the Eucharist, and by this into union with Jesus Christ.

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[1] Inagrace Dietterich, “Missional Community:  Cultivating Communities of the Holy Spirit,” in Missional Church:  A Vision for the Church in North America, ed.  Darrell Guder, (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1998), 152 – 153.  Hereafter referred to as Dietterich.
[2] Dietterich, 156.
[3] Rodney Clapp, A Peculiar People:  the Church as Culture in a Post-Christian Society, (Downers Grove:  InterVarsity, 1996), 96 – 97.  Hereafter referred to as Clapp.
[4] Diettrich, 154, 156
[5] Alexander Schmemann, The Eucharist:  Sacrament of the Kingdom, (Crestwood:  St. Vladimir’s, 1987), 14 – 15.  Hereafter referred to as Eucharist.
[6] Even creation has its own priestly role!
[7] Synthetic parallelism is where the second line, or verse, of the construction lends more, or clearer meaning to the first line.  Parallelism is, in part, how the poetry of the Old Testament is formed.  Parallelism is also a rhetorical devise in ancient Hebrew literature.
[8] Matthew 28:  20b, “…and behold, I am with you always even to the close of the age.”
[9] Epiclesis means “calling upon.”  This is the epiclesis as found in the Divine Liturgy:  “Again we offer unto Thee this ratioinal and bloodless worship, and ask Thee, and pray Thee, and supplicate Thee:  Send down Thy Holy Spirit upon us and upon these Gifts here offered…and make this Bread the Precious Body of Thy Christ…And that which is in the Cup, the Precious Blood of Thy Christ.”
[10] Eucharist, 21.

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