April 13, 2023

Homily for Holy and Great Thursday (St. Luke of Simferopol)

 The Secret Supper of Christ

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered on May 3, 1945)

The Secret Supper of Christ is so mysterious, so profound, so infinitely important, that our hearts are filled with trembling. For at this Holy Supper the Lord Jesus Christ washed the feet of His disciples, instituted the Mystery of Holy Communion, and for the first time Himself celebrated this Mystery, for the first time He communed His disciples.

The Lord showed His greatest humility by deed, washing the dusty feet of the disciples, who were greatly struck by this: “Lord, are You washing my feet?!” In bewilderment, they all remained silent and, silently, with trembling, obeyed the Lord Jesus Christ. Only fiery Peter could not bear it: “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” And the Lord answered: “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will understand later.” Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”

Hearing these words, Saint Peter shuddered. “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!” And the Lord answered: “There is nothing more for a clean person to wash but his dusty feet.” And having finished this marvelous, mysterious and great deed of His, the Lord Jesus Christ said: “Behold, I, your Lord and Teacher, have given you an example of how you should act. If I, your Lord, have washed your feet, then you must do the same to one another.” (See John 13:4-15 ).

How amazing is this work of the Lord! The Lord washed the feet of His servants! Has there been anything like this before? But the Lord acted in everything as no other person does, the Lord spoke about everything as no other person speaks. We must listen to every word of His with increased attention and trembling and diligently delve into their holy meaning.

What do the words mean that the Lord said to Saint Peter the Apostle: "Unless I wash your feet, you will have no part with Me." Why did the Lord say these terrible words? Is it because Saint Peter was so naturally agitated and could not in any way give his feet for washing to his great Teacher? Why would he not have a part with Christ if he resisted Him to the end? Because he did not attach due importance to the greatness of this work of the Lord and, not understanding, dared to oppose Him. One must be deeply reverent in everything in relation to the Lord Jesus Christ and accept every word of His with fear and trembling, never daring to deviate from His Divine will.

He said: “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean” (See John 13:10 ). So they were still missing something. They were cleansed, and their souls were sanctified by a three-year communion with the Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that they took into their hearts. They were clean. But if the Lord found it necessary to wash their dusty feet, it means that some sinful human infirmity still remained in them. The Lord wanted them to be holy in everything and blameless before God. This is a lesson for us. We must always remember how much impurity is in us, even after we have repented and partake of the Body and Blood of the Lord. And only the Lord can wash away this impurity.

Also, we must always remember and fulfill the covenant of Christ: “If I, your Teacher, have washed your feet, then you must also wash one another's feet” (John 13:14-15). What does it mean to wash one another's feet? This means that we must deeply humble ourselves before all people, do not exalt ourselves before anyone, but serve everyone, as the Lord Jesus Christ served. This means that in everything we must serve our neighbors, according to the word of the Lord: “Whoever wants to be great among you, let him be your servant” (Matt. 20:26).

Without any squeamishness, without any disgust, we must wash, bandage and heal the disgusting fetid festering wounds of our brothers - bodily wounds. Also, with great humility and love, we must heal the spiritual wounds of our brethren, endure the infirmities of the weak, as Saint Paul said; serve them, not dominate them; command no one, but be the servant of all.

Another, even more important work was done by the Lord at the Secret Supper on that day, which we now remember in prayerful veneration. On this day, the Lord Jesus Christ established the greatest of the Christian Mysteries - the Mystery of Communion. He performed an unusually mysterious and holy deed: He took bread, blessed it, looked up to heaven, gave praise to God, broke the bread and gave it to His disciples with amazing, completely unusual words that you hear at every holy Liturgy: “Take, eat, this is My Body, which is broken for you for the remission of sins” (I Cor. 11:24). Then the Lord Jesus Christ blessed the cup of wine and, giving it to the disciples, said: “Drink from this all of you, this is My Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins. Do this in remembrance of Me” (Matt. 26:28 and Luke 22:19). We do this in His remembrance every day at the Holy Liturgy in the Mystery of the Eucharist.

Even earlier, He said: “I am the Bread of Life… I am the Living Bread that came down from Heaven: whoever eats this Bread will live forever. The bread that I will give is My Flesh, which I will give for the life of the world... If you do not eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you will not have life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day; for my flesh is truly food, and my blood is truly drink; whoever eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood abides in Me, and I in him” (John 6:48-51, 53-56).

These words were so amazing that when people heard them, many, even among His disciples, turned away from Him, wondering how He could give His Flesh to eat? How can He give His Blood to drink? How can He call Himself the Bread of Heaven? The twelve apostles, whom the Lord Jesus Christ asked: “Do you not want to depart from me?”, answered Him through the lips of Saint Peter: “Lord, where shall we go? For You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:67-68).

The apostles accepted, put into their hearts the mysterious words of the Lord, believed that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Bread of Life, who came down from heaven, and now, at the Secret Supper, when He gave them His Flesh and Blood under the guise of bread and wine, they with deep faith remembered what Christ had said to them.

And we Christians must take these great holy words of Christ into our hearts, we must remember what Christ Himself told us in His amazing speech about the vine: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:1-6).

If we are branches of the Vine of Christ, then we feed on the juices of this Vine, just as an ordinary vine feeds on the juices that it receives from its roots. We cannot live without this mysterious nourishment from the Vine of Christ, the branches of which Christ made us worthy to be.

What are these juices of the Vine of Christ? This is His Blood, this is His Flesh, which He commands us to drink and eat. If we do not feed on the Body of Christ and the Blood of Christ, then, as the Lord said, we will not have life in ourselves, and He will not abide in us, and we in Him. This is how important this Mystery of Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ is, which the Lord Himself established at the Secret Supper and commanded us to perform in His memory.

We must believe with all our heart that, partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ under the guise of bread and wine, we really eat the Flesh of Christ and drink His Blood. And let none of us doubt, seeing that bread remains bread and wine remains wine, and that they have the taste of bread and wine. Let no one doubt that this is not ordinary wine and not ordinary bread, but the true Body and Blood of Christ.

The Lord does not force us, who have an aversion to raw meat, who cannot drink blood, to eat His Flesh and drink His Blood in the form of genuine meat and genuine blood. The Lord in the Mystery of the Eucharist performs the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, and all of you must believe that this transubstantiation is truly taking place.

No one should think, imitating the Protestants, that the Liturgy is only an image of what our Lord performed at the Secret Supper, only a formal likeness of it.

There were many who doubted that bread and wine were really transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Christ. Many times the Lord admonished them miraculously. The following true tradition has come down to us. A certain woman in Rome baked prosphora and brought them to Saint Gregory the Dialogos, Pope of Rome. One day when Saint Gregory, while communing her, said a prayer aloud, she smiled. He asked her, "What are you laughing at?" “How can I not laugh,” she answered, “when I myself baked this bread with my own hands, and you say that this is the true Body of Christ.” Saint Gregory raised his eyes to heaven and prayed to God that He would convince this woman that she would partake of the true Body and true Blood of Christ. And through his prayer, the woman saw real human flesh and blood instead of bread and wine and trembled with fear. And Saint Gregory prayed again, and through his prayer, the Flesh and Blood again took on the form of bread and wine.

The fact that in the Mystery of the Eucharist at the Liturgy a truly great miracle of the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is performed, the Lord also testified in another way. For we know from the life of Saint Sergius of Radonezh that when he celebrated the Liturgy and called on the Holy Spirit, when he pronounced the perfecting words of this great Mystery: “Having changed by Your Holy Spirit,” then one of his holy disciples saw that the monk was completely surrounded by flame and then this flame, moving away from him, twisted into a ball and entered the chalice with the Holy Gifts.

Is this not enough for us? Will we consider it a legend? Let the unbelievers talk about the legend; but we believe that this is indeed so, and those bishops and priests who celebrate the Mystery of the Eucharist with the greatest reverence clearly sense that the greatest Mystery is taking place, they feel how the Holy Spirit descends on the bread and wine.

Let us extend our dirty hands and feet to the Most Merciful Lord Jesus Christ and let us beg Him to wash away our defilements. And when He washes them in the Mystery of Repentance, then let us proceed to the great Mystery of Communion with fear and trembling, with deep faith that under the guise of bread and wine we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, that the words of Christ are fulfilled in us: “He who eats my Flesh and he who drinks my blood abides in Me, and I in him." Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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