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John of Damascus. 690 - 750 AD

John of Damascus

690 - 750 AD

Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book 4, ch. 13.

St. John Damascene was born in Damascus in 690 AD. After spending some time as a Christian official in the court of the Muslim khalif, he resigned that office, and went to be a monk in the monastery of St. Sabbas near Jerusalem where he studied and wrote most of his life.

Translation by Rev. Salmon, the Post-Nicene Fathers, vol IX, Series II, Aberdeen 1898. The full text is available on the Internet.

Chapter 13. Concerning the holy and immaculate Mysteries of the Lord.

[The eucharist is spiritual food]

“ . . . . Now seeing that this Adam is spiritual, it was meet that both the birth and likewise the food should be spiritual too, but since we are of a double and compound nature, it is meet that both the birth should be double and likewise the food compound. We were therefore given a birth by water and Spirit: I mean, by the holy baptism: and the food is the very bread of life, our Lord Jesus Christ, who came down from heaven. For when he was about to take on himself a voluntary death for our sakes, on the night on which he gave himself up, he laid a new covenant on his holy disciples and apostles, and through them on all who believe on him. In the upper chamber, then, of holy and illustrious Sion, after he had eaten the ancient Passover with his disciples and had fulfilled the ancient covenant, he washed his disciples' feet in token of the holy baptism. Then having broken bread he gave it to them saying, Take, eat, this is my body broken for you for the remission of sins. Likewise also he took the cup of wine and water and gave it to them saying, Drink ye all of it: for this is my blood, the blood of the New Testament which is shed for you for the remission of sins. This do ye in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do shew the death of the Son of man and confess his resurrection until he come.

[The Eucharist comes about by the invisible work of the Spirit, just as the Incarnation in Mary happened through the Spirit]

If then the Word of God is quick and energising, and the Lord did all that he willed; if he said, Let there be light and there was light, let there be a firmament and there was a firmament; if the heavens were established by the Word of the Lord and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth; if the heaven and the earth, water and fire and air and the whole glory of these, and, in truth, this most noble creature, man, were perfected by the Word of the Lord; if God the Word of his own will became man and the pure and undefiled blood of the holy and ever-virginal One made his flesh without the aid of seed, can he not then make the bread his body and the wine and water his blood? He said in the beginning, Let the earth bring forth grass, and even until this present day, when the rain comes it brings forth its proper fruits, urged on and strengthened by the divine command. God said, This is my body, and This is my blood, and this do ye in remembrance of me. And so it is at his omnipotent command until he come: for it was in this sense that he said until he come: and the overshadowing power of the Holy Spirit becomes through the invocation the rain to this new tillage. For just as God made all that he made by the energy of the Holy Spirit, so also now the energy of the Spirit performs those things that are supernatural and which it is not possible to comprehend unless by faith alone. ‘How shall this be?’, said the holy Virgin, ‘seeing I know not a man?’ And the archangel Gabriel answered her: ‘The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee.’ And now you ask, how the bread became Christ's body and the wine and water Christ's blood. And I say unto thee, ‘The Holy Spirit is present and does those things which surpass reason and thought.’

[The Eucharist uses ordinary symbols]

Further, bread and wine are employed: for God knoweth man's infirmity: for in general man turns away discontentedly from what is not well-worn by custom: and so with his usual indulgence he performs his supernatural works through familiar objects: and just as, in the case of baptism, since it is man's custom to wash himself with water and anoint himself with oil, he connected the grace of the Spirit with the oil and the water and made it the water of regeneration, in like manner since it is man's custom to eat and to drink water and wine, he connected his divinity with these and made them his body and blood in order that we may rise to what is supernatural through what is familiar and natural.

[The mystery of the Eucharist, like that of the Incarnation, is the work of the Spirit]

The body which is born of the holy Virgin is in truth body united with divinity, not that the body which was received up into the heavens descends, but that the bread itself and the wine are changed into God's body and blood. But if you enquire how this happens, it is enough for you to learn that it was through the Holy Spirit, just as the Lord took on himself flesh that subsisted in him and was born of the holy Mother of God through the Spirit. And we know nothing further save that the Word of God is true and energises and is omnipotent, but the manner of this cannot be searched out. . . . .

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