Did Jesus eat His own flesh? My answer is; no.
Recently a discussion came up in the ICON, with the above question. The relevant portion that made the questioner think the celebrant chanted his own words, quite inappropriately according to him, in the liturgy is the establishment words, cardinal to the Holy Eucharist, that is, �Jesus blessed, gave thanks, broke, ate and gave to disciples saying, �This is my body�� Some esteemed members answered as best as they could. One rightly pointed out that the celebrant did not insert anything of his own, but was exactly same as found in �Anaphora of the 12 Apostles.� Another one said, �St James Liturgy is for all Sundays.� Another said that �Syrian liturgy says that;� Malayalam translation is not to blame, etc.
All liturgies have four essential words in common,
(2) gave thanks or blessed,
(3) broke and
All four words are independent transitive verbs in past tense expressing completed actions. In other words, action of each verb is perfect and complete. The action of the first verb does not extend to nor combines with the other. In the case of impugned statement in the Anaphora of 12 Apostles, additional verb, �Ate� has become apple of discord. If taken in the order of sequence no confusion would arise; first Jesus took bread (Lahmo), then he gave thanks, then he broke it and then he ate some of it and then he gave remaining portion to disciples. It was bread without change when he broke and ate. Then the finite action took place that is, �He gave� to disciples saying, �This is my body.� It was those words that changed the bread into His body. It was God�s words that created, Gen 1:3. It was Jesus words that sanctified the disciples, John 15:3. It was the words of Jesus that the evil spirits left and people got healed. So when Jesus said, �This is my body,� ordinary bread instantly became His body and that happened after he ate. That is why there is no confusion of translation and Jesus did not eat His own body.
The first Holy Eucharist or Lord�s Supper was full meal for the hungry, not a symbolism as we celebrate now. This, everyone ate to his full capacity as was the custom of Passover meal. Apostles continued the Holy Eucharist the same manner as our Lord conducted it. Over the course of history Holy Eucharist was denigrated to mere symbolism of what took place when Lord instituted it. Church has its own reason for doing so and we do not find blame for it. Church inculcated various prayers and litanies giving a shape and form and hue of worship service. And yet we believe that the Holy Eucharist we celebrate and participate is immutably the same Lord�s Supper and the real conductor is Lord Himself; the priest standing in His stead by His authority.
Average faithful despite being enthusiastic traditionalists often consider a priest only as a Poojari, Kurbana thozhilali or paid employee who has no authority but to recite what is written. However, the question points towards what he/she knows about liturgy or worship service.
I would clarify that St James Liturgy is the oldest and model for all liturgies. According to tradition St James first conducted Holy Anaphora after resurrection according to what he had learned straight from Jesus Christ. However the Greek word �Anaphora� is a later origin. Biblical term in the days of Apostles was �Breaking of Bread, �Lord�s Supper,� etc as seen in Book of Acts. Some people name it, �Last Supper.� St Ignatius Noorono of Antioch was the first prelate to employ the word, �Eucharist�, which means, thanksgiving, to Anaphora. In Syriac we call it, �Kurobo.� Kurbono or Kurbana as we call it; is Arabic word meaning, oblation or offering. St Peter and St John conducted Holy Anaphora immediately after resurrection with the same words and format as of St James. Without doubt all apostles accepted the Anaphora of St James. In due course of time Anaphora of St James itself underwent many changes. Many illustrious fathers of the Church wrote many liturgies. The growth of liturgical tradition spans for a period of 13 centuries. I mean, there was no considerable theological expansion during the last 7 centuries. All the liturgies are in the same format as of St James. Changes are only in words and length. Fundamental principles of Anaphora or its purpose has never changed. Syrian Orthodox is the only church with such rich heritage of more than 70 liturgies. In Malankara until recently we had Taksa with 24 liturgies; then it was reduced to 13 and now we have 7 short liturgies to save time for we are now too busy with other matters. Some priests prefer to the same liturgy always. For this reason most of the faithful are unaware of the existence of many liturgies and differences therein, which has caused confusion to the questioner.
Church does not stipulate St James liturgy for all Sundays as some would mistakenly say. Church insists on St James Liturgy on Feast days, Koodos Eetho, Church Consecration, ordination and when a priest conducts Holy Eucharist for the first time, and on a new altar, etc. The original St James liturgy was long one. Greorious Bar Ebraya edited and shortened it in the 13th Century and this is what we now use in both Middle East and Malankara. To further shorten the length of service priests use shorter liturgies of St K�sosthos, St Dionesius, etc and recite only the �establishment words� from St James liturgy.
Establishment words, like most prayers, are not same in all liturgies. A few examples:
St James� Anaphora, �When He, the sinless one, of His own Will, prepared to accept death for us sinners, took bread into His Holy hands +++ when He had given thanks, He blessed, consecrated, broke and gave it to His holy apostles saying, Take, eat of it, this is my body, which is broken for you and for many and is given for the remission of sins and for life eternal.
Likewise also, He took the Cup +++ and when He had given thanks, He blessed consecrated and gave to his holy apostles saying, Take, drink of it, all of you. This is my blood, which is shed for you and for many and is given for the remission of sins and for life eternal.�
St Dionesius Bar Sleebi: �When our Lord prepared for the redeeming Passion, took bread, blessed, consecrated, broke and named it His Holy Body to those who partake in them.
Likewise also, the cup which was mixed from wine and water blessed, sanctified, perfected as His precious blood for the eternal life of those who partake of it.�
Anaphora of 12 Apostles: �He who, when immutably becoming man, came to the Cross and before His life giving passion, took bread in His holy hands. He blessed ++ and sanctified + and broke and ate; and gave it to His disciples, saying: Take, eat of it; this is My Body which is broken for you and for many and is given for the remission of sins and for life everlasting.
Likewise, after they had eaten supper, He took the cup blended with wine and water. He blessed + + and sanctified + and when He had tasted it, gave it to His disciples, saying: Take drink of it, all of you. This is My Blood of the new Covenant which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins and for life everlasting.�
I have not come across nor read all the seventy plus anaphora. The words, �Ate/drunk� is peculiar to the Anaphora of 12 Apostles. All authors surely mention the occasion of instituting Anaphora that it was in the eve/night of His passion. St Peter gives more clarity saying; it was instituted at the time of Passover evening.
The Syriac word �Lahmo� is used in all taksas for bread. English rendering is Bread and Malayalam rendering is Appam. Anaphora of St Isaac says, �common bread� (sadharana appam). Anaphora of St Mathai Royo is the closest rendering that says, �Leavened bread which manifested the mystery of salvation� (Rekshaamarmam adangiyirikkunna pulippulla appam). Bread in English and �Appam� in Malayalam do not convey accurate meaning of Lahmo. In Syriac there are two words namely; Lahmo meaning leavened (fermented) bread and Patheero meaning unleavened bread. Passover was also the feast of unleavened bread. The word Lahmo is especially significant because of the Jewish Passover background. Jesus Christ first performed all the rites of Passover meal before He instituted the Holy Anaphora using leavened bread. Some scholars say that Jesus did not conduct all the formalities of Passover meals. I have heard some old priests who use only Syriac text and instantly translate saying clearly that Jesus instituted Holy Anaphora after the Passover meal (�Moosaika pessahaye than nivarthichittu�). Again, St Mathai Royo specifies that in the Last Supper Lord �displaced the old feast of unleavened bread. The emphasis is that the Last Supper was a culmination of Old and New; not altogether departing from the tradition and yet fully new one. Thus in short the church allows different words with the basic understanding that everyone knows what it actually means.
It is also relevant to point out that certain very senior and scholarly priests taught me that it is necessary to say the establishment words (Barekh u Kaadees) because Jesus Christ used it, in all Anaphora. Probably we are the only church continuing this tradition. But there is Anaphora without those words or using derivatives. For example: St K�sosthos says on bread, �Esbaraakh Vesakzee� and on wine �Veskadaas.� Recently I have participated in a Holy Eucharist where the celebrant, a senior priest and an acclaimed scholar omitted the establishment words, (Barekh u Kadees). However my limited knowledge declines to subscribe to that position. Some Anaphora does not say Jesus gave thanks. The differences are thus vast and innumerable. The Syrian tradition allowed such differences for the sake of variety and beauty of worship unlike in RC tradition which does not allow differences in establishment words.
The bishop/priest has authority to apply words, without changing the basics, importing messages relevant to contemporary situations for there are many words irrelevant to present context. I know at least a very few bishops/priests inserting their own wordings in Anaphora prayers and that is perfectly ok. Gospel accounts bear witness to such variations in presentation according to the knowledge and purpose of authors. I will deal some such differences below in relation to Passover. It would be too long to write from all Taksas and I hope this would suffice.
Passover: Passover is English rendering of Hebrew Pesah. Passover reminisces in our minds twofold action of Yahweh as He passed through the midst of Egyptians and Israel in that fateful night. First, it was a judgment on evil. Merciful and long suffering Yahweh gave nine chances to Pharaoh to let Israelites go out of Egypt. Each time instead of acknowledging the Omnipotent God, heeding to verbal warning and by pestilences Pharaoh hardened his heart; made the people toil harder and rebuked Moses the chosen one. When Moses told Pharaoh �let my people go and worship our God,� Pharaoh challenged the living God. Pharaoh�s denials were challenging Yahweh�s omnipotence due to pride. Yahweh was thus compelled to pronounce final judgment on Pharaoh which ended in his ultimate ruin. Second, it was the beginning of victory and deliverance to the chosen ones over evil. The story of deliverance of Israel from the tyranny of Pharaoh has many semblances to Kurushetra (Kaurava-Pandava) war in Mahabharatham in which Lord Krishna took side of the less fortunate and the just Pandavas. Yahweh clearly took the side of Israelites, the weaker and the oppressed. Yahweh Himself took initiative and guided each step until they reach final destination. God gave sufficient warning through Moses to Pharaoh before each plague. Pharaoh was a captive of superstitious belief in the powers of his gods. Each plague was to demonstrate that there is only One God Yahweh and it is necessary to obey His commands, for He is God, all Universe. The tenth plague of killing the firstborn human beings and the cattle resulted from the failure of all possible ways of reconciliations. Pharaoh�s defiance is typical of human reliance in his own distorted notion of authority and might and failure to acknowledge God. When all other lesser methods failed God took the extreme step of ruining the whole infrastructure of Pharaoh killing all the first-born males of Egypt; from king to cattle. Looking at and from different aspects of the unparalleled history of exodus, it was truly a great jihad. Jihad is war between sons of light and sons of darkness, (Dead Sea Scrolls for detail).
Was it necessary to kill the firstborns of cattle, I often wondered? Egyptians worshipped many beasts as gods. That made them to rebel against the Only God. By killing the firstborns of the beast Yahweh taught them that all firstborns whether of beast or of man belong to Him. There is no god other than Yahweh who can save. So it was necessary; necessary also to compound the severity of the judgment upon the Egyptians. The lesson here is when the leader fails the whole followers suffer and when man sins not only he but the whole creations suffer.
Israelites and Egyptian lived together; they were not segregated into separate groups. God devised a perfect plan to identify and separate the Israel from Egyptians. Blood of the lamb became medium of identification. God has mysterious ways to save whom He chooses, Ps 23:5.
Farming and sheep tending were the oldest occupations of humanity and the only means of livelihood for the ancients. They depended upon nature and divine powers for success. Feast of unleavened bread was the feast of farmers. Pesah was the feast of shepherds. Both existed before exodus as means of propitiation to deity to prosper the farming and shepherding industry. Moses combined the two ancient traditions together giving new shape and meaning to them. Moses made it an everlasting memory of the great exodus. It became an act of thanksgiving to the mighty deeds that Yahweh did for their deliverance. It also pointed to the future eternal deliverance of humanity from the shackles of Satan and the final victory of good over evil.
Jewish Passover was introduced as preparation for the great exodus. Details are written in chapter 12 of Exodus. It was conducted within the confines of homes. The chief element was one year old male lamb without blemishes. From this time on, Abib (Nisan from the time of Babel Diaspora) was reckoned as the beginning of the calendar year. Moses instructed them to choose the lamb on the 10th day and keep it to 14th to verify if the lamb was without blemish. On the evening of 14th, from 3 to 5 in the afternoon, they had to kill (sacrifice) the lamb. The sacrifice indicated that life is offered to God. Blood was considered life and that was made symbol of saving, hope and security. The head of the household should smear blood of the lamb on the doorposts and lintel of the door using a bunch of hyssop. All members needed to be shut inside the house. No one was to go outside during that night. The sprinkling of blood was a sign to the angel to pass and to indicate that the atonement had been made. They had to roast the lamb in fire without breaking any of its bones. Sacrifice was complete only with eating the flesh of the victim. The wholeness represents the unity of Israel. Boiling in water or any other means as was the system until then was not permitted to avoid dismemberment and hasten the exodus. Left over if any had to be burnt. This was by all means environmentally and hygienically safe manner of disposing wastes. Other edible items were unleavened bread, unleavened, because there was no time to wait for fermentation
again stressing the need to hurry up exodus and bitter herb. Leaven was forbidden from the sacrificial meals to remind how hurriedly their forefathers left Egypt.
Protestant scholars explain that leaven was forbidden because fermentation was symbolic of corruption and decay. Of course Jesus told his disciples to beware of the leaven of Pharisees and Sadducees, Mat16:6. Jesus was referring to the defiled doctrines. In the same sense St Paul advised Corinthians to remove the old leaven which was malice and wickedness, because Christ the Passover lamb is sacrificed on the cross, 1C5:6. Jesus implied leaven to good attitude also when He told about the furtherance of the Kingdom of God, Mat 13:33. Thus leaven can be attributed to both good and bad aspects. When it is often compared to uncleanness, moral decline and sin it also can be attributed to life and fast growth or multiplication of faithful. Leaven softens the bread and increases the palatability and hence it is good. Leavened bread was indispensable item of their daily staple food. Jewish custom required to remove leaven as the first step of preparation of Passover feast simply to remind them that with such haste their forefathers left from Egypt. They were to eat hurriedly standing, with girded loins, wearing sandals and holding staff. Jews wore long tunics flowing down to the feet. Girding it to raise the lower level of tunic was necessary to enable them to walk briskly. These are further indications of the haste invoked. Jesus advised the seventy, �Greet no one on the road, Luke 9:4. This was not an indication of discourtesy but the haste involved in preaching the gospel. Apostles advised the disciples to gird their loins so that they be ready for holy living in obedience at all times, 1P 1:13. Bitter herb was to remind their bitter experiences of bondage in Egypt.
That night God Yahweh executed judgment on Egypt. Israelites plundered Egyptians and started pilgrimage to the Promised Land next morning. Western scholars interpret that the exodus began on the 15th day of Nissan because their calendar day begins at midnight. This is not correct. The exodus began on the 14th day itself because Jews reckoned the day from evening to evening so did Christians in early days. When the angel of death passed through the midst of Egypt and all the firstborns were killed there was great panic and cry. Pharaoh woke up at night, immediately summoned Moses and Aaron and asked them to leave without any delay, v31. Not only Pharaoh but the people of Egypt also pressed them leave quickly. So the Israelites left in such hurry that they carried the dough, not waiting to bake bread. There was also fear that Pharaoh might change his mind again if they delayed. He changed his mind again as we see later. Numbers 33:3 states that the exodus started on the 15th day. This contradicts the exodus details in Ex 12:31-33 and nullifies the hurry. Some scholars so believe; but I think details in Exodus are more accurate.
The Passover and feast of unleavened bread celebration continued for seven days. The first day and the seventh day they had to gather together before the Tabernacle. Those who did not remove leaven were to be excommunicated. Moses charged Elders to observe Passover feast and teach the meaning of this feast to the children even after reaching the land of promise.
Later changes: Passover was at first domestic function. Later it assumed religious ritual status. The venue of sacrificing lamb was transferred to the Tabernacle sanctuary, so even the banquet. Sacrificial victim could either be lamb or bullock. Unleavened bread was named as �bread of affliction,� Dt 16:1-5. Passover performance was compulsory for all Israelites. Cleanliness became mandatory. Those who become unclean by touching corpse had to perform a secondary Passover in the next month, Num 9:10-13. King Josiah conducted Passover in grand manner with certain innovations. He arranged the Levite and Priests according to their ancestral order. Priests sprinkled the blood of the victim on the altar, 2K 23:21-23, 2Chr c35. Needless to say, Passover sacrifice and feast were concluded with singing of songs, Psalms 113 to 118. By the time of Jesus ministry Passover feast was conducted in more advanced manner but the basic requirements never changed. Sacrificial lamb was chosen and set apart on the 10th day of Nisan, one for each family. 10 people were minimum needed. Neighbors or friends could be invited to complete number 10 (example Jesus with His disciples). The victim was killed on the 14th day in the temple. People assembled in the front (west) porch. Priests stood in two rows. Each in one row held a golden basin and each one in other row held silver basin. Blood collected from the expiring victim was passed on to each hand and the priest at the end of the line sprinkled the blood on the altar, all the while singling Psalms, (Douglas dictionary).
The slaughtered lamb was then carried home. Passover meal needed be prepared, served and eaten within the city limits. On the day of Preparation, 13th day, Leaven was ceremoniously searched with the aid of lighted candle and removed from the house chanting a prayer of sanctification. Passover meal was served at night. Passover meal began with prayer of thanks and ended with Psalms. There were four vessels of wine, representing four promises found in Exodus 6:6-7 namely, 1, �I will bring you out from the burdens of Egypt; 2, I will deliver you from the bondage; 3, I will redeem you with outstretched arm and great acts of judgment, 4, I will take you for my people and I will be your God, (Barclay). This was of later origin. The first is the �cup of Kiddush=sanctification.� This starts with a lengthy benediction. Then they ceremoniously washed their hands and ate vegetables dipped in vinegar, salt and water (appetizer). The youngest member then asked four question namely, why only unleavened bread, why bitter herb, why food is dipped twice, why father or Rabbi was given special comfort seats, etc. The head of the family or Rabbi then replied the whole concept, the history, the meaning, etc; mostly a prepared recitation. Second cup is passed at the end of recitation, blessed and tasted. Before breaking the bread there was another ceremony, that is, Prayer of benediction before the bitter herb is dipped in a mixture of crushed fruits and wine. The bitter and the sweet are mingled to denote that freedom and spiritual progress can be achieved only through suffering and sacrifice. Then the head of the house broke and distributed the unleavened bread to all participants; the bitter herb to remind afflictions of slavery, the mixture of different fruits, which also was a much later addition, to remind the toil of making bricks in Egypt. The bowl of salt and water reminded the tears in Egypt. After this they eat the lamb-meat. The third cup was of thanksgiving and grace after meals. The fourth cup of wine is for the grateful acknowledgement benefits that God provided. This also symbolizes that the angel of death passed off. There will be songs praising God and Psalms throughout. Some scholars say that Jesus blessed and gave the third cup to the disciples and the fourth cup he said he will not taste until glorification, Mat 26:29.
Jesus told his disciples to prepare Passover meals and they did. It was surely according to the Law of Moses. Disciples did not know at that point if their master had any other thought. So He did every formality that the head of the house ought to do in relation to the feast. For he said, �I have come not to remove the law but to fulfill the law.� None of the gospels clarify beyond doubt if he completed all the formalities of the law of feast. But surely there are a few indications.
1, Luke says, �When the hour came Jesus sat down and the twelve apostles with Him,� 22:14. Here, the word �hour� I believe, Luke meant after the time stipulated to eat standing. Sitting in the Passover meal, though certain rabbinical tradition allowed reclining of Rabbis or head of the household, is a clear deviation from the ancient custom. The custom required that they eat the Passover meals standing, loins girded, wearing sandals and holding staff.
2, John clearly says, that Jesus was hanged and died on the cross at the same time when the Passover lamb was slain, according to some scholars. This means that the Last Supper, as John says, was conducted in the eve before. Mark says Jesus died the day before Sabbath, Mk 15:42. Luke says, �That day was the preparation and the Sabbath drew near,� Lk 23:54. Mathew says, �Pharisees and chief priests gathered together to Pilate on the next day, which followed the day of preparation,� 27:62. This means that the death and burial was on the day of preparation and next day was Sabbath. In other words the Passover meal was eaten at the end of the day of preparation.
Thus all the gospels agree, not contradicting each other as some would imagine, the death of Jesus took place on Friday the time when the Passover Lamb was slain and before the Jews ate it. Passover of the Ancient by all means pointed towards the full and final redemption of humanity through the atonement of Christ on the Cross.
1, The Passover lamb was to be without blemish. Sinful man cannot redeem another sinful; he can only cause more defilement because sin multiplies sin. For this reason Son of God came into the world without sin. Jesus Christ was free from the natural defilement which everyone inherits at birth. Speaking of the birth of Jesus Christ the apostle says, �Born of a woman.� Apostle was clearly telling that Mary conceived without human involvement. Mary by her own admission did not have human contact that caused bearing and birth of Christ.
2, Passover was at first a closed door family matter. Jesus conducted Passover supper and institution of Holy Eucharist in a closed door meeting. Authority to conduct Eucharist was given to His 12 disciples.
3, the lamb was to be roasted whole without breaking any of its bone. John attests that since Jesus was dead when soldiers inspected they did not break his bones.
4, The Passover lamb should be of one (12 to 24 months in some cases)year of age. This is the age of prime youth of the lamb. Jesus Christ was crucified in his prime youth, at the age off 33.
5, There are two interesting elements in the Passover
ceremonies that developed in the course of its evolution.
5.1,addition of fifth cup of wine called, �Cup of Elijah.� According to Talmud, Jews had a Messianic hope. They believed, when the exploitation of man by man ends Elijah will come and fully and finally redeem them. This would take place during Passover because the original Passover is the memory of their redemption from Egypt. For this reason they would never drink that cup for it was reserved for Messiah.
5.2, intervening days were not compulsory holidays. Fifth day of the Feast of Tabernacle was called, Hoshanah Rabba. They ceremonially blessed four plants on that day. Worshippers carried willow branches and chanted, Hoshana. At His triumphant entry into Jerusalem temple, people spread olive branches on the road and sang Hosanna marking the fulfillment of long awaited Messianic expectation of Jews.
Ancient Middle East cultures practiced a cult of sacrificing firstborn. Popular belief was that all firstborn sons and first produce belonged to God. Sacrifice brought prosperity to family; example Abraham sacrificing his only son. Passover was initially a shepherd feast of sacrificing firstborn. Later instead of firstborn humans they sacrificed a lamb and redeemed human son. Yahweh revealed to Moses His plan of redeeming the lost humanity through His Firstborn (of all creations) Son, Heb 1:6. So Moses set Passover Feast not only as a memory of the redemption from Egyptian bondage but also as precursor to the sacrifice of the Lamb of God upon the cross of Calvary. Moses appeared to Jesus and discussed modalities of
this great plan at Mount Tabor.
Is it not interesting that the whole acts of redemption took place during the traditional Passover days that the Jews fondly cherished for centuries? Triumphant entry into Jerusalem temple was on 10th day of Nisan. 14th evening He ate Last Supper with disciples, established the Holy Eucharist, got arrested, tried and they crucified Him at the sixth hour of the same day. This was the day and time Jews slain the Passover lamb for the whole nation. These are pointers that Jesus was the Sacrificial Lamb.
We are saved by His atoning Blood,
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