Eating and drinking: such simple, yet vital and universal acts of humanity. We have to eat and drink. If you stop for too long you die.
In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, He set mankind in the Paradise of Eden. There He planted the Tree of Life. It is clear from Scripture and the wisdom of the saints that mankind was intended eventually to partake of this Tree, but due to the fall this never happened; instead Adam and Eve were cast out of Paradise (cf. Gen. 3: 22-21). The flaming sword then barred the way to the Tree of Life. It became impossible for mankind to eat of the Tree.
In ancient Israel the consummation, the defining action, of being an Israelite was the ability to participate in the oblations sacrificed on the altar in the Temple at Jerusalem (and before that in the Tent of Tabernacle). This participation was a defining reality; only true Hebrews communed of the sacrifices in the Temple.
Eating and drinking in Judaism and Christianity have long held a much deeper significance than simply utilitarian biological functions.
God has, since the beginning, given to those who are His a very physical way of communing with Him; even to the point of taking a basic necessity such as eating and drinking and infusing it with potent spiritual reality.
Christ clearly says: “He who eats my flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks my blood abides in Me, and I in him” (Jn 6: 54-56), and elsewhere, “Take, eat; this is My body … Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Mt. 26: 26-28). Archimandrite Vasileios says, "In one pearl of the Body and Blood of Christ one can find all of Paradise. So we see that Paradise is a tasting - as we sing, 'Taste and see that the Lord is good' (at every Div. Liturgy, cf. Ps. 33/34:8, my note) - to know and understand that God is love." Love which is participatory: "Take, eat ... Take, drink."
Today Eden exists and the Tree of Life is on earth. Whoever desires may still partake of the Fruit of Paradise. By the sacrifice of the Cross, Christ has planted Himself in the midst of His Church, eternally established in the time transcending reality of His sacrifice - Holy Communion. He has given those who are His to mystically and physically partake of Him through eating and drinking, and thereby commune in the everlasting victory of the God-Man.
In Eden of old the Tree of Life was imbued with grace to make Adam and Eve “like God.” Today any who would be like God must partake of the Fruit of Christ: His Body and Blood - the Tree of Life.
|Icon: The Cross as the Tree of Life|
Holy Communion, participation in Christ's real Body and Blood, has been the fundamental center of true Christian living since the beginning of the Church. As of old Eden was centered on the Tree of Life, and Israel was centered on the sacrifices of the altar in Zion, so the Church of Christ is centered on the altar where the Body and Blood of Christ is made manifest. A neglect or denial of this reality is a loss of that which is essential to the Christian faith. In fact a neglect of Holy Communion is a neglect of true Life in Christ: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” (my emphasis, Jn 6:53).
Just as for physical life God has set down that we must eat and drink, so in the spiritual life He has ordained that one must literally eat and drink of Him. There is no other way to be like God: a Christian eats in a physical manner of the Tree of Life, which is Christ Jesus.
This Tree has always been the center of Orthodox Christianity; It blossoms, and Its Divine fruit is distributed at every Divine Liturgy; It has not been hewn down, cast out, and replaced by new up to date shiny attractions.
The invitation is still goes out to every man, woman and child: come partake of the Fruit of Paradise planted in the midst of Eden.