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Ερώτηση:

Πολλοί χριστιανοί δείχνουν ιδιαίτερη ευλάβεια στον άρτο και στον οίνο που χρησιμοποιούν στη διατροφή τους (αποφεύγουν την απόρριψή τους κτλ.) διότι τα θεωρούν κατά κάποιο τρόπο "ευλογημένα" λόγω του Μυστικού Δείπνου. Άλλοι ευλαβούνται ιδιαιτέρως ή και χρίονται το έλαιο της κανδήλας που ανάπτεται μπροστά σε εικόνες ή στην αγία Τράπεζα. Τέλος, κάποιοι πιστεύουν ότι η ρεύση αίματος μετά τη μετάληψη αποτελεί βεβήλωση ή απώλεια του Κυριακού Αίματος που θεωρούν ότι "ρέει" στις φλέβες μας μετά την κοινωνία.
Τι από όλα τούτα είναι αληθές και τι υπερβολικό ή απορριπτέο;

Translation of Question 17.

Many Christians show a special devotion to the bread and wine used in their diet (they avoid disposing them etc.) because they see them in some way as being “blessed” because of the Mystical Supper. Others pay special reverence or anoint the oil from vigil lamps which are lit in front of Icons or on the Holy Table. Lastly, some believe that the flow of blood after partaking of the Holy Gifts results in a desecration or loss of the Lord’s Blood which they see as flowing in our veins after having Holy Communion.
Which of all these is true and which an exaggeration or rejectable?

 

Answer to Question 17.
Dear Constantine,

All three questions are actually old pious customs which most Orthodox have grown up with. Are they an exaggeration of an overzealous piety or do they have spiritual meanings that our age has forgotten? Well let’s begin with your first question concerning the bread and wine. Today you go to the supermarket and buy yourself a loaf of bread and at the same time you can also pick up a bottle of wine. How convenient! But in days gone by most people had to bake their own bread and produce their own wine. Thus even before we see its symbolism in the Divine Liturgy, we can see that a lot of hard work went into producing these two basic foods and thus were treated with much more respect than our supermarket items. But now let’s see how these two items take on a special role because as you said “people think of them as somehow blessed because of their use in the Mystical Supper. The following is part of a series of talks I gave on the interpretation of the Divine Liturgy which is available on my website (Talk on the interpretation and meaning of the Divine Liturgy Part 1)
“With the Divine Liturgy God offers man his life. But because He doesn’t want the divine gift to appear as Grace on his part only, he therefore accepts a kind of offering from man so that His Grace appears as a reward. Thus the Divine Liturgy is both man’s offering to God and God’s offering to man. The Office of oblation is the part of the Divine Liturgy which is man’s offering to God. The faithful bring offerings of bread and sweet wine and from these the Priest will select the best to offer to God. But why bread and wine? Why did Christ himself use bread for his Body and wine for His Blood? Everything on earth belongs to God: He is the creator of all things. What then can we offer him that we can call ours. In truth the only thing we can offer him is our love and our life and bread and wine represent an offering of our whole life. They are two basic foods peculiar only to man. The Jewish offerings were also offerings of the earth and of livestock, but they were not foods that belonged only to man, but also to animals. Bread and wine are exclusively foods for man. God gives as the wheat and the water, but we take the wheat, clean it and grind it into flour, then with the water we knead it into dough and then bake it to become bread. The prosphoron we use in the Divine Liturgy is even more peculiar because it is prepared separately from common bread. When making a prosphoron, we have in mind that it will to be used for the offering, so we prepare ourselves for this sacred work and make it with prayer and love. The wine again is mans peculiar offering because God gives us the vine and the grapes but it is man who looks after the vineyard making sure to prune it and dust it to protect it from the scorching sun, it is man who will harvest the fruit and crush the grapes to produce the wine. We have put labour, prayer, love and our life into our offering.”
Thus to answer your first question, bread and wine, as peculiar foods only for man, are symbols that represent our whole life, but at the same time have also received a general blessing because they were chosen by Christ to be consecrated and become his precious Body and Blood. By this alone, bread and wine should be treated with a special reverence, not as the Body and Blood of our Lord, but as reminders that they were used by our Lord to give us eternal life. In this sense, the old customs of not throwing away bread is understandable. When the bread accidentally fell to the floor people would kiss it and then eat it. Other customs kept by many today are to always place the bread on the table the right way up, to hold the loaf the right way up went cutting a slice and not to stab the knife into the loaf.

Your next question reminds me of a similar question you asked concerning the holy light and how can it be considered as consecrated. I then answered: “No special prayer is said for the light and no blessing by the Priest. It is a light that is constantly offered to God as a form of prayer. In that sense, it is different from just lighting a candle from a matchstick. It is customary to take home the light as a blessing, but you ask if it can be considered as consecrated. God doesn’t always need our prayers to send his grace upon something. We are often asked by people to give them the oil from the καντήλες (vigil lamps) so that they can cross someone who is ill. The oil is not Holy Unction (Άγιον Ευχέλαιο), but ordinary oil that is used to burn the lamp, but we hear of people recovering from their illnesses after being crossed with the oil. People take water from springs near monasteries and churches (Αγίασμα, not Αγιασμό) and again we hear stories of people being healed.”
The same applies to the oil from the vigil lamps. It is not sanctified by any prayer, but it is different from just ordinary oil because it has been offered as a form of prayer. As I said last time “If someone believes that the oil from the vigil lamps will give them a blessing, then I would be inclined to agree with them.” If a miracle takes place, who am I to say that it shouldn’t have happened just because it was not blessed by a priest. “Never underestimate the power of faith.” And never question the mysteries of God. Are we to tell God how and when he should be merciful?

Your last question concerning the loss of blood after having Holy Communion is exaggerated by some, but again has its root in a pious custom which has as its main purpose to teach us to respect the Body and Blood of Christ and not to treat them superficially. If someone has an accident after taking Holy Communion and loses blood then of cause this is not a desecration of the Lord’s Blood. It is simple an accident and nothing more. It was unavoidable. But if someone is losing blood before partaking then it is advisable not to partake, for this reason also, women who are on their period do not partake of the holy Gifts until the flow of blood ceases. These are practices that help us to approach the divine mysteries with the utmost reverence and not treat them trivially. Does the Lord’s blood flow in our veins? Yes! in a sense it does because by partaking we have become one body with Christ. What does St. Paul say: “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” (1 Cor. 12:27) And: “For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.” (Eph 5:30)
Thus we should respect our bodies as though they were the Lord’s not only after partaking, but at all times. Many take care to avoid certain practices on the day of partaking such as spitting or bathing, but not on other days as though the magic of the Lord’s Blood has disappeared from their bodies. The truth is our union with Christ is eternal and not a 24 hour thing that passes. But returning to the loss of blood before communion, there are instances where we are called to give Communion to someone losing blood after being involved in an accident and in danger of dying and others who have open wounds after an operation. Do we refuse them Communion because of their blood loss? Of course not, so we see that with each circumstance it is not the loss of blood that is important but our attitude towards the divine Mysteries.