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Sermon on the Great Thursday

On the Thursday evening of the Holy Week, before the Jewish Passover, which was celebrated on Saturday, Jesus Christ gathered His disciples in the upper room of Zion. The Lord washed His disciples’ feet and said, “Do you know what I have done to you? I gave you an example so that you act the same way as I.”

Sermon on the Great Thursday

The Son of God showed great humility by washing the feet of His disciples at the Last Supper, because He taught them: “If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mk. 9:35). Christ showed his disciples how to fulfil His commandment, “Learn from me; for I am meek and humble in heart” (Mt. 11:29). Christ continued His feat of humble self-sacrifice until the end of His earthly life: “He humbled himself and became obedient unto death” (Phil. 2:8).

Humility and self-abasement are the path to salvation, for, as the Gospel says, “every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14), that is: the more a person humbles himself, the more he acquires dignity in the eyes of God and gifts of His grace. The meek prophet David instructs us: “I humbled myself, and the Lord saved me” (Psalm 116:6, according to the Church Slavonic translation). The saints speak of humility as the foundation of all virtues. Thus, Saint Basil the Great writes, “To succeed in virtue means to succeed in humility.”

Then, at the Last Supper, Christ and the apostles began a common evening meal, during which Christ said to His disciples, “One of you will betray me” (Jn. 13:21). Everyone began to ask, “Is it I, Lord?” (Mt. 26, 22) When Judas Iscariot asked about that, Christ answered him: “You have said so” (Mt. 26:25), took a piece of bread, dipped it in a dish with salt and gave it to Judas with the words: “What you are going to do, do quickly” (Jn. 13, 27). Then Judas went out, and the disciples thought that Christ had sent him to buy something for the feast.

Having celebrated the Jewish Passover, Christ took the bread, blessed it, broke it and, giving it to the disciples, said, “Take it and eat, this is my body which is broken for you for the remission of sins.” Then he took a cup of wine, blessed it and gave it to the disciples with the words: “Drink of it, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:27-28). At the same time, He commanded, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk. 22:19). Thus, on the Great Thursday, the sacrament of Communion was established, during which the apostles, under the appearances of bread and wine, communed the Body and Blood of Christ.

The great Divine meaning of the Last Supper lies in the fact that when the Lord gave His Most Pure Body and His Most Pure Blood to us for food and drink, the barrier created by man who, having sinned, fell away from God, was destroyed. After the Last Supper, the abyss between God and man does not exist, for when we receive communion, we unite with God physically and spiritually. As Christ says in the Gospel: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (Jn. 6:56). Venerable Simeon the New Theologian, in the prayer for the Holy Communion, speaks of this union: “That I may partake of Your most pure and spotless Mysteries, by which everyone that eats and drinks in purity of heart is quickened and deified… and when I divinely partake, I am no more alone, but with You, my Christ, the three-sunned Light.”

According to the word of Apostle Paul, through Communion a Christian becomes a new person who proclaims to the world: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). Saint John Chrysostom says that in Communion we become “relatives” of Christ, living in the common body with Him, we are honoured with the great honour of being His “brothers and friends,” and St. Ignatius of Antioch adds that in the sacrament of Communion we become “Christ-bearers and God-bearers.”

With the incarnation of God incomprehensible to the human mind, the Lord entered the womb of the Most Holy Virgin. Wisdom of God “has built her house” (Prov. 9:1), as it is said in the canon of the Great Thursday, that is, Wisdom, Who created the world, built a house for Himself in the Most Pure Virgin. Therefore, after Holy Communion, when reading thanksgiving prayers, we turn not only to Christ, but also to His Most Pure Mother, who accepted His Divine flesh into Herself, for She became the first bodily Temple, into which the Divinity came to dwell. Following the Most Pure Virgin, we, Christians, in Holy Communion receive the incarnate God into ourselves, thereby becoming partakers of the eternal life, the new Easter, which is incarnate Jesus Christ Himself.

After the communion of the Holy Mysteries of Christ, we become like the God-man Jesus Christ by God’s grace, that is, our body and soul become the temple of the Divinity: “God’s flesh deifies and nourishes me. It deifies the spirit, and nourishes the mind in a strange and wonderful way,” says the prayer for Holy Communion. But further in this prayer it is said: “O man, be terrified: are you eating, being unworthy? It is coal, scorching the unworthy.” And since “the one who eats and drinks being unworthy, eats and drinks his own judgment,” the unrepentant sinner takes communion to the detriment of his soul and body and to the condemnation from God. Who is the one who partakes unworthily, to the judgment and condemnation of himself? These are those Christians who violate the commandments of God without repentance, those who bear anger against their neighbours in their hearts.

The first such unworthy partaker was Judas, of whom it is said: “the evil-minded, ill with the love of money, was darkened”. After the betrayal of Christ, Judas fell into despair and committed suicide, thereby condemning himself to eternal torment. On the contrary, Apostle Peter, when he fell into sin of renouncing the Lord three times, did not lose the hope of receiving the Teacher’s forgiveness, and Christ accepted his tearful repentance and then elevated him to the high dignity, handing over to him the keys to Paradise.

We must understand and remember that, receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord, we take upon ourselves the great responsibility to glorify the name of God with our whole life, so that our union with the Divinity would be for our joy, benefit and enlightenment, and not for heaviness and torment, as it happened to Judas. Approaching the cup of Holy Communion, we must be in a state of sincere self-condemnation and understand our unworthiness of this great gift. As the prayer for communion says, “Knowing myself to be self-condemned and unworthy even to look at the fearful Meal with my eyes,” we approach the Sacrament, hoping for the “abyss of mercy” of God, who sees our humility and desire to overcome sin, to correct our lives and helps us in this. Hearing the exclamation before the Sacrament, “Holy to the saints,” we nevertheless approach, “hoping for the bounties” of God, so that the Holy Communion would become to us “for enlightenment and for salvation, and for healing and preservation and purification, and sanctification of soul and body”.

Partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ in the present life, we hope that in the future eternal life we will also partake of God even more fully and more completely, as the words of the Easter canon say, “Give us that we partake of You more truly in the ever-bright day of Your Kingdom.” The bliss of Paradise consists in the abiding of the soul in God and of God in the soul. This union with Him is, according to the word of the Holy Scripture, a source of unceasing joy, inexhaustible and inexpressible bliss.

Let us remember that preparation for Communion begins immediately after the previous Communion, since our whole life consists in it – life, directed to salvation, spent in prayer and fasting, in good deeds and repentance. Having received the Holy Mysteries, let us bear them in ourselves with dignity, with awe and trembling, just as the Most Holy Mother of God bore Infant Christ in Her womb. Brothers and sisters! Let us ask the Lord that until the end of our lives we worthily partake of the Holy Mysteries of Christ and at the hour of death not be deprived of the blessed gift of Holy Communion, and in the ever-bright day of His Kingdom, that is, in eternal life, be rewarded with “His ineffable and eternal blessings and the enjoyment of His endless and blessed life.”

Let the Lord help us in this, to whom is the glory, now and ever and unto the ages of ages, amen!