UNDERSTANDING OF EUCHARIST IN ST.
(published in L. Padovese [ed.], Atti del VI Simposio di Efeso su S. Giovani Apostolo, Roma 1966, pp. 39-52).
“Concerning the teaching of the Church, whether publicly proclaimed or
reserved to members of the household of faith, we have received some from
written sources, while others through the apostolic tradition
have been given to us in mystery (Ýí
With these words St. Basil the
Great in his treatise "On the Holy Spirit" has perfectly defined the
foundations of our christian faith: Holy Scripture and Worship, apostolic
tradition and liturgical experience of the christian self-consciousness, Gospel
and Liturgy, in other words Word and Sacrament. Given the great emphasis given
in modern times to the eucharistic ecclesiology, especially within the
Ecumenical movement, as well as the fact that the traditional Churches (especially
the Orthodox and the Catholic) underline the significance of the Sacrament, more
precisely of the Eucharist, sometimes over and above the importance for the
christian faith of the Word of God,
I believe it is necessary and urgent to re-examine in depth the meaning of
The proper understanding of Eucharist has always been a stumbling block in
christian theology and life; not only at the start of the christian community
when the Church had to struggle against a multitude of mystery cults, but also
much later when scholastic theology (mostly in the West) has systematized a
latent "sacramentalistic" view of the Holy Mysteries of our Holy
Catholic and Apostolic Church. In
vain distinguished theologians of the East (most notably in the case of
Cabassilas) attempted to redefine the christian sacramental theology on the
basis of the trinitarian theology. Seen from a modern theological perspective,
this was a desperate attempt to reject certain tendencies which overemphasized
the importance of Christology at the expense and to the detriment of the
importance of the role of the Holy Spirit. The controversy between East and West
on the issues of the filioque, the epiclesis etc. are well known,
though their consequences to the sacramental theology of the Church have yet to
be fully and systematically examined. The
tragic consequences of those tendencies were in fact felt a few generations
after the final Schism between East and West with the further division of
Western Christianity. One of the main focuses during the Reformation, and
rightly so, was the "sacramentalistic" understanding of the eucharist
in the Western Church, which resulted, among
other things, in the departure of the mainstream protestant theology from the
early christian sacramental theology. The
dialectic opposition between "sacramentantalism" on the one hand, and
"the complete rejection of sacraments" on the other, was the main
reason of the tragic secularization of our society and the
transformation of the Church into a religion, in some cases a cultic, and
in other cases a merely proclaiming/ confessing, religion.
In order to figure
out the meaning, as well as the real nature and character of the
it is my firm conviction that we should first turn to the Bible.
And for our purpose there is no other text more suitable than the Gospel
of John. This canonical book of the Bible, at least in its present and
is the first serious attempt at a theological understanding of the
meaning of the christian sacrament. Along with the pauline
interpretation of Baptism in terms of sharing Christ's death on the
cross, the strange and peculiar johannine expression of "eating the
flesh of the Son of Man and drinking his blood" (6:54), has become
the basis of all subsequent sacramental understanding of the Eucharist
in both East and West.
In other words we have only to search for the interpretation and understanding
of the Eucharist by the Fourth Evangelist; after all the Eucharist is the "fullness
of the mysteries" (Symeon of Thessaloniki); it is also the very expression
of the Church, the Sacrament of the Church, which according to N.Cavassilas
(is designated in the mysteries); but above all in the Gospel of John the
Eucharist is presented as a Mystery, and in a mysterious way as the life giving
sacrament. The section of the
Fourth Gospel which extensively deals with this subject is chapter 6.
Before we speak about this chapter, we need first say a few words concerning the
way one can determine the theology of the Fourth Gospel.
Today it is unanimously accepted that the Fourth Evangelist approaches the
enduring problems of history, of human destiny,
death and the salvation of the humankind starting not from anthropology but rather from Christology.
Christology in the Fourth Gospel, however, cannot to be understood apart from
its Pneumatology, since "the
Paraclete, the Holy Spirit" (Jn 14:26), according to the characteristic
terminology of John, can be easily defined as the "alter ego" of
Christ ("and I will ask my father and he will give you another Paraclete
so that he might remain with you always", Jn 14:16)
This other Paraclete who "will teach you all things" (Jn.
14:26) is "the Spirit of truth" (Jn 14:17; 15:26; 16:13); and
in the final analysis the one that will "guide you into all the truth"
(Jn 16:12). Consequently human
beings are in communion with "the
way, the truth and the life", who is Christ, only through the Holy
Spirit, whom he bestows upon the world as a gift of God the Father.
The crucial question, of course, is how and on what condition can one become
bearer of the Spirit, according to johannine theology, i.e. how he can be saved.
To answer this question modern exegetes are
dramatically divided. Conservative scholars insist that according to the
johannine theology this can only happen within the Church through the sacraments,
whereas liberal critics argue that
it is in keeping the word of God and being in communion with Christ that
salvation can be accomplished. Both views converge in presenting the johannine
ecclesiology just as in the pre-johannine tradition, i.e as an eschatological
reality; the only difference perhaps being that in the Fourth Gospel the members
of the Christian community (i.e. the Church) are not designated by the current
early Christian predicates (Israel of God, saints, a royal priesthood
etc., and even Church); the real members of the Church are
only those who keep the word of
Jesus. In this respect John develops even further the ecumenical character of
the Church first expounded by St. Paul (in his Epistle to the Romans [ch. 11]).
For this reason the faithful are simply called disciples (Jn
13:35; 15:8 etc.) friends (15:13ff), and are said to be united with
Christ just as vine branches are to the vine. (15.1ff). In other words the
Church, as in the early Christian tradition, is not perceived as a mere
organization with a specific order, but rather as a communion with Christ.
The faithful are in communion with Christ, just as Christ is in communion
(or to be more exact in unity) with the Father (10:30;
17.21f) when they keep his word, and believe in him who had sent him. They are
of the truth when they hear his voice, just as the sheep hear the voice of the
good shepherd (10:1ff). All these
happen, when they change their lives i.e. when they are born from above (3:3),
by the Spirit (3:5f), something which is experienced as an eschatological act
and gift of God. This birth by the
Spirit, unlike natural birth, is the work of God which no one can control just
as so happens to the wind. "The Spirit blows where it wills (and
here the evangelist moves from the meaning of the Spirit to that of the wind,
since the Greek ðíåõìá
can have both meanings) and you hear its sound but you do not know from where
it comes or where it goes. Thus it
is with everyone who is born of the Spirit" (3:8).
For this reason the proper worship of the community has to be a worship "in
spirit and in truth" (4:24).
This extremely charismatic ecclesiological view, which the Fourth Evangelist
seems to exhibit, is completed altered in a number of seemingly strong
sacramental references (as e.g. vv. 3:5f, with the reference to the rebirth of
water and of the Spirit; or v. 19:34, the reference to the flow of blood and
water from the pierced side of the crucified Jesus; and above all in the so-called
"sacramental" section (vv. 6:51b-58) of the "eucharistic" or
"Bread-of-Life" discourse (vv. 30ff), and in fact in the entire sixth
St. John the Evangelist, although he omits the words of institution of the
Eucharist is rightly considered the sacramental theologian par excellence.
One can only read carefully the reference to the new commandment of love
(13:34-35), and will immediately recall the institution narrative, since the
sounds very similar to the êáéíÞ äéáèÞêç (the new testament)
of the synoptic tradition.
Furthermore the symbolism of the vine and the branches in the "Farewell
Discourse" (ch. 15), the washing of the disciples feet (ch. 13), which
actually replaces the synoptic account of the Institution of the Eucharist,
the aforementioned flow of blood and water from the pierced side of the
crucified Jesus (19:34) and above all Chapter 6
with its "Eucharistic Discourse" (especially 6:51b-58); they
all make the sacramental, or rather eucharistic, character of the Fourth Gospel
more than inescapable. Not to mention, of course, the miraculous change of the
water into wine at the Wedding in Cana (2:1-11) at the outset of Jesus' earthly
ministry, as well as many other cases. The issue at stake, however, is whether
this sacramental dimension, and more precisely the johannine understanding of
the Holy Mysteries of initiation, is at all related to the "sacramentalistic"
views of the ancient, contemporary to the early Church, Hellenistic Mystery
Coming back to the narratives in the sixth chapter we must
note that the entire section consists
of corresponding smaller units,
which are linked together through their sacramental/eucharistic point of
Only the passage of the walking of Jesus on the lake of Genesaret (6:16-21)
seems to be outside this scheme. This
is probably due to the fact that this very unit was preserved in the earlier
synoptic tradition (Mk 6:30-52 = Mt 14:13-27) coupled with the account of the
multiplication of loaves.
At any rate, the entire eucharistic discourse on the "bread of life"
(6:22ff) is actually a continuation of, and a commentary on, the miracle of the
feeding of the five thousand (which by the way had already in the synoptic
tradition been given an accented eucharistic dimension [Mk. 6:41]).
Reading carefully through the entire johannine eucharistic discourse (6:22-71)
we are struck by the dramatic change of
vocabulary and content in vv.
52-58, the transition point being v.51b, where a more direct and clear
sacramental symbolism appears.
Whereas the eucharistic motifs previously played only a secondary role, from
6:51b onward they become the predominant and eventually the exclusive subject.
Faith in Christ is no longer spoken of as a basic presupposition for
eternal life ("he who believes in me has eternal life. I am the bread of
life” 6.47-48; see also 6.35); eternal
life now is linked with the sacramental eating of the flesh and the drinking of
the blood of Christ (“truly truly, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son
of Man and drink his blood you will not have life in yourselves. Whoever eats my
flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life....he who eats me, shall live by me"
6:54f, 57; cf. also 6:56).
I do not propose to proceed to an enumeration of similar quite sound arguments,
evidenced in the text itself, which lent support to the hypothesis of an editor/redactor
of the Fourth Gospel.
In contemporary biblical scholarship chapter 6
of St. John’s Gospel has become a locus classicus of the
most diverse exegetical and theological views, concerning its sacramental or non-sacramental
character. The whole issue is part of a long and heated discussion which
centered around the alleged influence of the oriental/hellenistic
mystery cults on christianity.
We have to remind ourselves that the most moderate views of the
History-of-Religions School (Religionsgeschichte) range from the theory that
"christianity became sacramental - or mystery religion - on passing from
Jewish to Greco-Oriental surroundings",
to the theory that holds that "apostolic christianity separated itself from
all ancient religions by not being magical, no deus ex machina, no ex
opere operato...until the 'change' to a 'sacramental' doctrine, which became
characteristic from the fourth century".
It is quite interesting to review in brief the different interpretations which
have been given to the problems related to the philological unity and
theological meaning of John ch.6. The main theories can be classified as follows:
The allegorical interpretation,
which holds that Jesus was exclusively speaking about faith in his person,
and that verses 51b-58 refer to this faith without alluding in any way to the
The realistic interpretation,
which asserts that Jesus was solely speaking about the eucharist. This is
clearly foreshadowed in the account of the multiplication of loaves and the
feeding of the five thousand. The sacramental part of the eucharistic discourse
in verses 51b-58 is nothing but the confirmation of this foreshadowing.
Since both the above theories no doubt oversimplify the problem of the sixth
chapter's philological unity, another theory has been suggested, which gained
wide support, at least in Europe, that of the editor/redactor.
According to this theory vv. 51-58 are an interpolation by a later
ecclesiastical redactor in order to harmonize the johannine teaching to the
ignatian eucharistic understanding. For Bultmann the original author of the
Fourth Gospel, while not manifesting any anti-sacramental polemic, nevertheless,
certainly maintains a critical and at the very least a cautious stand regarding
As a reaction to this theory a number of scholars
suggested the theory of successive teachings of Jesus on faith
and on eucharist, the former, however, being given such prominence
that almost eliminated the latter. But this theory, too, cannot be accepted,
even by conservative exegetes. M.-J. Lagrange
e.g. felt it necessary to speak of different subject matter to different
audiences; whereas J.Jeremias has advanced the hypothesis of a pre-johannine
discourse in verses 51b-58, which the evangelist incorporated into his main
"bread of life" eucharistic discourse (6:30-50).
Some scholars have pointed to the strong incarnational motifs of the
and suggested that the author of the Gospel understood the eucharist as a
testimony to the reality of Jesus' human nature.
One finds this same idea in the account of the washing of the disciples' feet at
the Last Supper. Whereas the Synoptic Evangelists describe the eucharistic words
of Christ in this context, the Fourth Evangelist sets forth the example of
Christ's extreme humility. In this
way he is attempting to emphasize the theological meaning which must be present
in the eucharistic-liturgical praxis of the church.
Another group of scholars
desperately attempted to harmonize all those divergent views by maintaining that in the sixth chapter John is treating
neither just one only of the Church's perennial teachings, i.e. faith or
the eucharist, nor both of
them in a successive manner; he rather speaks on both of them simultaneously
in terms of mutual causality of faith and sacrament.
A. Feuillet e.g. mainly based
his argument on the results of the important study of P.Borgen, who in his book Bread
from Heaven argued that the
entire sixth chapter of John, including the sacramental section, can be
explained as a word-by-word midrashic exegesis of the Feeding-of-the-5.000
miracle on the basis of Psalm 78 (77 LXX).
Feuillet pointed out that the essence of Jesus' teaching in the sixth chapter
indeed originates in the historical Jesus and was actually based on the Old
Testament typological references (manna, messianic banquet, and the
sophiological meal); but it was John who embellished this historical account
with interpretative observations and comments, which he believed necessary,
given the liturgical/eucharistic practice of his community. H.Schurmann, on the
other hand, who subjected the entire chapter to a strict critical analysis, came
to the conclusion that the final unit of the chapter (vv. 60-71), where the
crisis which erupted in the community is described, is connected to the teaching
on the bread of life in vv. 26-51. The intermediate discourse (vv 51b-58), i.e.
the sacramental part of the eucharistic discourse, which is in between, is not a
later interpolation, but was purposely supplied by the author as a "parenthesis"
in order to elucidate the deeper significance of the Eucharist.
The mystery of the eucharistic praxis of the Church, Schurmann argued, is
not exclusively an extension of the saving event of the incarnation.
It sustains, of course, the faith of the "here and now" of the
incarnation, yet it is also something more: it is the communion of love,
sacrifice, offering and thanksgiving as well as the representation of the
salvation event. Thus, faith is not
suppressed by sacrament; it is its presupposition, and the latter is essentially
an act of faith.
Finally quite recently J.M.Perry has advanced yet another theory on "The Evolution
of the Johannine Eucharist", as he entitled his article.
He believes that the apparent discrepancies in ch.6 can be satisfactorily solved
if we accept a legitimate development in the history of the johannine community
from a non sacramental to a sacramental understanding of Eucharist. At the
beginning, as it is evident in the miracle of the multiplication of loaves
(6:1-15), the Eucharist was perceived in terms of the manna typology as an
exclusively eschatological celebration of joy. The Bread-of-Life discourse
(6:21-51a) was added at a later stage to equip the community with a theological
response of a midrashic/polemic kind underlining the significance of the
Eucharistic bread as a sign of the life giving word of God mediated definitely
through the Risen Lord. This resurrection-oriented understanding of the
Eucharist, acquired (after interaction with the pauline communities) also cross
and passion sacramental elements, evident in vv.51b-58, a process which "altered
but did not eliminate the original eschatological character of (the community's)
It was this re-orientation of the eucharistic understanding, Dr Perry argues,
that caused the crisis in the community (cf. 6:60-66; also 10:16).
All these scholarly attempts to solve the problems of the literary unity of Jn
ch. 6 have certainly shed some light to the theological understanding of
johannine Eucharist and of the johannine Sacrament in general. No doubt, it is
worth undergoing any kind of critical scrutiny for a biblical passage such as Jn
6, which in view of its unquestionable canonicity is the first serious attempt
to approach the eucharistic experience of the Early Church from a theological
perspective. If the Synoptic
gospels and the epistles of Paul have preserved the details of the liturgical
praxis of the Church in a soteriological/sacramental way, it is John who answers
the question of this liturgical praxis' nature, its profound meaning and the
consequences of participating in it.
However, from the above short and fragmentary presentation of modern research on
the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, one cannot escape the impression that
the old problematic of the scholastic period, as well as that of the subsequent
reformation, concerning the nature of the Eucharist and of the sacraments in
general, is more than evident.
The great change in sacramental theology and the understanding of the Eucharist
that has taken place in Western Christianity especially since the twelfth
is still there. That is why a
widely accepted scholarly view on the issue, from all christian quarters (orthodox,
catholic and protestant alike), has yet to be reached. According to the
distinguished British scholar C.K.Barrett, specialist in the johannine
literature, "what John means by eating and drinking the Son of Man's flesh
and blood is a question that still has to be answered".
Without arguing that similar sacramentalistic phenomena did not appear in the
we can say with a fair amount of objectivity that they never had a catalytic
effect on Eastern theology. In the remaining time we shall examine this alleged
sacramentalistic interpolation, that seemingly destroys the extreme charismatic
ecclesiology of the Gospel of John, without the above preoccupations.
In my view the entire section can be
reduced to the well known and oft repeated v. 6:56: “He who eats my
flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him”, a verse which in
fact summarizes the entire sacramental part of the johannine eucharistic
discourse, and is widely used in both eastern and western liturgical life.
The most crucial point for critical understanding of this passage - which calls
to mind the words of institution of the earlier pauline (I Cor 11:23-26) and
synoptic traditions (Mk 14:22-25=Mt 26:26-29=Lk 22:14-20) - is not merely the
fact that the terminology used, especially the expression referring to the
eating of flesh, is according to the Old Testament standard beliefs (Ps 26:2) an
enemy action. We have now learned that this expression in the syriac/aramaic
tradition eventually came to refer to the devil himself.
The most crucial point is the replacement by the author of the 4th Gospel
of the traditional eucharistic term "body" (a term with specific
ecclesiological connotations expressed in the pauline image of the Church as the
"body of Christ"), with the expression "eating the flesh",
an expression with heavy and intense mystery (magical)
connotation. The explanation, which
some scholars tried to give in the past, i.e. that no hebrew or aramaic word
exists to render the term "body" as understood in the New Testament,
In other words, the suggestion that Jesus used at the Last Supper the expression
"take eat this is my flesh” is most unlikely. In addition, the
term "flesh" in all other christological usages in John is always
associated with the incarnation (cf. e.g. "and the word became flesh and
dwelt among us" Jn 1:14). In the Gospel of John we find a more direct
correlation of the Sacrament of the Church (the community's eucharistic
fellowship) with the "mystery" of the incarnation, than in the earlier
christian tradition. After all the
johannine tradition has admittedly an anti-docetic character.
Therefore, if we are to offer a sound explanation, we have to search elsewhere.
First of all it is quite evident that in John we have a life-oriented
understanding of the Eucharist, which without loosing its connection with Jesus'
death (see 19:34), it is essentially distanced from death and associated rather
with life (“the bread that I will give is my flesh which I will give for
the life of the world “, 6:51 see also 6:33,58).
The antithesis between bread and manna illustrates perfectly this fact;
for whereas the Jews who had eaten the manna in the desert died, those who
partake of the true bread will have life eternal (6:58,33).
Of course phrases, such as "he who hears my word and believes the one
who sent me has eternal life” (5:24), which recur many times in John
(cf.3:36; 11:25; 8:12) would definitely lead to the conclusion that the original
johannine understanding of the Eucharist is beyond the sacramentalistic (magical
in the final analysis) and the mystical (syncretistic) conceptions, which
underlay the hellenistic mystery rites.
Without denying a sacramental nuance in the verse under consideration, we can
argue that what makes it (and by extension the entire sacramental section
51b-58) also incompatible with similar views, is in fact its immediate context.
And first the accompanying phrase: "he will abide in me and I in him"
(Jn. 6:56). With this phrase, which denotes an unbroken relationship,
communion and abiding presence of God, the author of the Fourth Gospel surpasses
both the hellenistic concept of "ecstasy", and at the same time the
classical conception of judaic prophecy; for he transforms the eschatological
expectation from a future event to a present reality. But at the same time he
avoids any trace of pantheism, since there is no hint to the idea of "identification"
of the initiate with the deity, which was the principal teaching of all current
mystery cults. In addition, if one connects this fundamental eucharistic logion
of John with the next verse (6:57), one will easily come to the conclusion that
in John we have the beginnings of what has become axiomatic in Christian (especially
Orthodox) theology: To have eternal
life - in other words to live in a true and authentic way and not just live a
conventional life - one has to be
in communion with Christ. Communion with Christ, however, means participation in
the perfect communion, which exists within the Holy Trinity between the Father
and the Son ("Just as the living Father sent me, and I live through the
Father, he who eats me will live through me”
6:57). What we have here in John, is in fact a parallel expression to
the classic statement of II Peter "èåßáò öýóåùò
êïéíùíïß" (partakers of the divine nature, 1:4), which has become
in later patristic literature the biblical foundation of the doctrine of
divinization (èÝùóéò). In the case of the Gospel of John, however,
this idea is expressed in a more descriptive and
less abstract way that in II Peter.
If we now take this argument a
little further, we can say that johannine theology more fully develops the
earlier interpretation of the Eucharist as the continually repeated act of
sealing the "new covenant" of God with his new people. This
interpretation is evidenced in the
synoptic and pauline tradition, although there the covenantal interpretation of
Jesus' death in the phrase "this is my blood of the covenant"
(Mk 14:24 par and I Cor 11:25), is somewhat hidden by the
soteriological formula "which is shed for you" (ibid.).
What comes out of this understanding of the Eucharist by John with its more
direct emphasis on the idea of the covenant and of the communion, is the
transformation of Jeremiah's vision - which was at the same time also a promise
- from a marginal to a central feature. Just as in the book of Jeremiah, so also
in John it is the ideas of a new covenant, of communion, and of the Church as a people , that are most strongly
emphasized. Listen to what the prophet was saying: "and I will make a covenant.
. . a new covenant", 38:31; and "I will give them a heart
to know that I am the Lord....and they shall be unto me a people",
This covenantal dimension of Eucharist, however, is not the only feature
emphasized in the Gospel of John. The pericope of the “Washing of the
Disciples’ Feet” (13:1-20)
reveals yet another dimension. The incident in question, which is preserved only
by the St. John, is placed in the context of the Last Supper, and in direct
connection with Judas’ betrayal; in other words, exactly in the place the
Synoptic Gospels have recorded the so-called dominical sayings of the
institution of the Eucharist (Mark 14: 22-25 par). Given John’ s almost
certain knowledge of the synoptic tradition, one can fairly argue that he has
actually replaced the account of the Institution of the Eucharist by the
symbolic act of Jesus’ washing his disciples’ feet.
If so, the Eucharist is understood by the 4th Evagelist, also as an act
of diakonia, humility and sharing with radical social implications; in other
words an act of social diakonia. Cultural anthropology has shown that in
Jesus’ contemporary society the washing of a disciple’s feet was not merely
the ultimate act of humble and kenotic diakonia, but a act of social behaviour.
In fact, as A.Destro-M.Pesce have argued,
In the 4th Gospel the incident is a rite of inversion of roles within the
If any conclusion is to be drawn from the above analysis of the johannine
eucharistic understanding, this is an affirmation of the ecclesial and diaconal
dimension of the christian Sacraments and of the Eucharist as a communion event
and not an act of personal devotion; an expression of the Church as the people (laos)
and household (oikos) of God and as the Body of Christ mystically united
with its head and a proleptic manifestation of the Kingdom to come, and not a
mere cultic and/or witnessing institution; an act of social diakonia and sharing,
and not a sacramentalistic quasi-maginal rite.
More precisely, the eucharistic theology of the Gospel of John is beyond any
notion related to sacramental practices of the ancient Mystery cults. The
Eucharist as the unique and primary Sacrament of the Church cannot be related to
"sacramentalism"; it is rather an expression of the communion of the
people of God, that radically transcends (and transforms) the conventional
social values, roles and structures, which in turn is a reflection of the
communion that exists between the persons of the Holy Trinity.
Just as Paul in his epistle to the Romans (see Rom 6:3-11) contends with
the magical/sacramentalistic understanding of baptism, and for that reason he
stresses the moral obligations of the believer
and exhorts them to "walk in newness of life", 6:4 and "no
longer be enslaved to sin 6:6),
in a similar way the Fourth
Evangelist goes beyond a analogous magical/sacramentalistic conception of the
Eucharist, the other major sacrament of christian initiation.
St. Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit 27, PG vol 32, cl 188. Cf. also J.Petrou, The Unity and the Breaking of the Communion of Faithful according to S.Basil , Thessaloniki 1983 (in Greek).
It is worth noting that most of the responses from the Orthodox Churches to the Lima document (BEM) underline the need for further examination of the significance of the christian understanding of the sacrament. See also Th.FitzGerald, "Faith, Sacraments, and the Unity of the Church: The Text and a Response," GOTR 34 (1989) 151-166.
Cf. my "Orthodox Theology Facing the 21st Century," GOTR 34 (1990) 139-150; also my "Orthodoxy and the West," Orthodoxy at the Crossroad, 1992, 91-126.
Unfortunately, this mounting sacramentalism of medieval Catholicism has also influenced Eastern Christianity, if not in theology at least certainly in piety and liturgical practice. (More on this in my "Orthodoxy and Liturgical Renewal," Lex Orandi. Studies of Liturgical Theology, 1994, 57-68).
See the interesting article by M.E.Brikman, "Creation and Sacrament,"Exchange 19 (1990) 208-216, where a suggestion is made that the Orthodox understanding of Mysteries, if properly applied to all aspects of life, may lead us out of the dead locks and dillemas of the western sacramental theology, and the shortcomings of the conventional creation theology.
For arguments of such an approach see my "Greek Theology in the Making. Trends and Facts from the 80s-Vision for the 90s," SVTQ 35 (1991) 139-153
According to C.H.Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, 1953, the hypothesis of two divergent views, one sacramentalistic and the other mystical, does not help to grasp the theology of the text as we have it today (p.342 n.3).
M.Stanley, "The Bread of Life," Worship 32 (1958) 477-488, has rightly stated that in ch.6 John presents in a masterly way the christian view on the sacrament of the Eucharist
Bultmann's presentation of the johannine theology on the basis of an existential interpretation of the N.T. (i.e. presenting theology as anthropology), has not been widely accepted by contemporary biblical scholarship; contrary to the impact which this prominent New Testament scholar made through his formulation of the pauline theology.
E.Lohse, Grundrisse der neutestamentlichen Theologie, 1974 (all references here are from the Greek tr, 1980, pp. 184ff. Cf. however the interesting essay of C.K.Barrett, "Christocentric or Theocentric? Observations on the Theological Method of the Fourth Gospel,"Essays on John, 1982 pp. 1-18.
In later patristic theology the neutral åí åóìåí was taken to mean unity in essence (ïõóßá) but not in substance (õðüóôáóéò).
I. de la Potterie has brought to my attention, on the basis mainly of the very early patristic tradition in both East and West, the possibility of interpreting the entire verse pneumatologically, i.e. without reference to at all to the wind (cf. also his “‘Nascere dall’ aqua e nascere dallo Spirito’. Il teato battesimale di Giovanni 3,5” in I. de la Potterie-S.Lyonnet, La vita secondo lo Spirito. Condizione del cristiano, ³1992 [revised edition translated from the original French book La vie selon l’ Esprit, condition du chrétien, 1965], pp. 35-74).
Cf. O.Cullmann, Les Sacraments dans l'Evangile Johannique 1951, incorporated in his Early Christian Worship, 1953. The rediscovery of the sacramental characteristics in St. John's Gospel has in fact a long history in modern biblical scholarship: cf. S.Smalley, “Liturgy and Sacrament in the Fourth Gospel,” EvQ 29 (1957) 159-170; C.T.Craig, “Sacramental Interest in the Fourth Gospel,” JBL 58 (1939) 31-41; also J.M.Creed, “Sacraments in the Fourth Gospel,”The Modern Churchman 16 (1926) 363-372.
More on this in A.Dalbesio, “La concezione giovannea di ‘comandamento’ quale anima della morale christiana”, in this volume.
For a connection between the new commendment and the Eucharist cf. D.Cancian, Nuovo commandamento, nuova alleanza, eucaristia. Nell’ interpretazione del capitolo 13 del Vangelo di Giovanni, 1978, pp. 168-250.
More on this below.
S.Agouridis, Why was Christ Crucified? Interpretations of Christ's Death by the N.T. Authors, 1990 (in Greek), p.56.
According to R.E.Brown, "The Eucharist and Baptism in St. John," Proceedings of the Society of Catholic College Teachers of Sacred Doctrine 8 (1962) 14-37, the correct understanding of the johannine mysteriology very much depends on the proper understanding of ch. 6 (and ch.3).
For a different view on this issue see among others E.D.Johnston, "The Johannine Version of the Feeding of the Five Thousand - an Independent Tradition?" NTS 8 (1962) 151-154.
Cf. however G.H.Boobyer, "The Eucharistic Interpretation of the Miracles of the Loaves in Mark's Gospel," JTS n.s. 3 (1952) 161-171, who suggested that Mark understood the miracle symbolically, but not eucharistically.
Cf. P.Niewalda, Sakramentssymbolik im Johannes-Evangelium? 1958
L.Goppelt, "ôñþãù" TDNT vol VIII, pp.236f.
R.Bultmann's school is the main proponent of this view (cf. his commentary, The Gospel of John, p.218ff; G.Bornkamm, "Die eucharistische Rede im Johannes-Evangelium," ZNW 47  161-169, and others; more on this theory below). E.Ruckstuhl, Die literarische Einheit des Johannes-Evangeliums, 1951, pp. 220-271, has argued against this theory on literary grounds; cf. also J.Racette, "L'unité du discours sur le pain de vie (Jean VI),"SciencEccl 9 (1957) 82-85.
More on this in J.Z.Smith, Drudgery Divine: On the Comparison of Early Christianities and the Religion of Late Antiquity, 1990.
K.Lake, Modern Churchman 11 (1921-22), p.237; also his, The Earlier Epistles of S. Paul: The Motive and Origin, 1911; idem, Landmarks in the History of Early Christianity, 1920. Cf. H.A.A. Kennedy, St. Paul and the Mystery Religions, 1913.
J.A.Faulkner, "Did Mystery Religions Influence the Apostolic Christianity," MethQuartRev 73 (1924) 387-403, p. 397; and idem, "Did Ancient Christianity Borrow from the Mystery Religions," ibid., 266-278, p. 274.
A similar classification of current scholarly views has been suggested by X.Léon Dufour, "Le mystère du Pain de Vie (Jean VI)," RechSciRel 46 (1958) 481-523. For a history of interpretation see also C.R.Koester, "John Six and the Lord's Supper," Lutheran Quarterly n.s. 4 (1990) 419-437.
Cf. among others H.Odeberg,The Fourth Gospel in its Relation to the Contemporaneous Currents in Palestine and the Hellenistic-Oriental World, 19292; A. Schlatter, Der Evangelist Johannes. Wie er spricht, denkt und glaubt, 19302; H. Strathmann, Das Evangelium nach Johannes, 1955.
The main proponents of this theory are O.Cullmann, Urchristentum und Gottesdienst, 1944 and its translation into English The Early Christian Worship; and J.Bonsirven, "Hoc est corpus meum," Biblica 29 (1948) 205-219.
Cf. among others J.Wellhausen, Das Evangelium Johannis 1908; R. Bultmann, The Gospel of John, p.218ff; G.Bornkamm, "Die eucharistische Rede..,"; and E.Lohse, "Wort und Sacrament im Johannesevangelium," NTS 7 (1961) 110-125.
R.Bultmann, Theology II, p. 59.
Among others E.Schweizer, "Das johanneische Zeugnis vom Herrenmahl," Neotestamentica1963, pp. 371-373; idem, EGO EIMI. Die religionsgeschichtliche Herrkunft und theologische Bedeutung der johanneischen Bildreden, 1939; P.-H. Menoud, "Les études johanniques de Bultmann `a Barrett," L' Evangile de Jean, 1958, pp. 11-40; D. Mollat, "Le Chapitre VIe de Saint Jean," LumVie 31 (1957) 107-119.
 Evangile selon St. Jean, 19273, ad loc..
J.Jeremias, "Joh 6,51c-58 - redaktionell?" ZNW 44 (1953) 256ff.
R.E.Brown, The Gospel According to John, vol.I, 1966, ad loc, who nevertheless believes, as another Roman Catholic also does (R.Schnackenburg, The Gospel According to St. John, vol.II, engl. tr., 1980, ad loc) that vv. 52-58 were added later by the final redactor; G.H.C.MacGregor, "The Eucharist in the Fourth Gospel," NTS 9 (1963) 111-119; O.S.Brooks, "The Johannine Eucharist. Another Interpretation, JBL 82 (1963) 293-300.
According to MacGregor (see previous n.) e.g.in order to fully understand the unique approach of John to the "mystery" we need take in to account the peculiar characteristics of his theology (incarnation, "the word became flesh", eternal life acquired through faith and sacraments, emphasis on life instead of death, hence the phrase "for the life of the world" [6:51] and the preference to symbolisms and references to life), as well as the pressing issues of his community when he wrote his Gospel (rejection of the Eucharist by the Jews and the danger of the infiltration of sacramentalistic/magical ideas into the christian rite). John's views are presented in some details to address these problems. Cf. also his Eucharistic Origins, 1928.
See, however, below.
X. Léon-Dufour, "Le Mystère du Pain..,"; A Feuillet, "Les thémes bibliques majeurs du discours sur le pain de vie (jn 6). Contribution a l' étude de la pansée johannique," NRT 82 (1960), pp. 803ff; H. Schürmann, "Die Eucharistie als Repräsentation und Application des Heilsgeschehens nach Joh 6. 53-58," TrThZeit 68 (1959) 108-118.
According to P.Borgen, Bread from Heaven, 1965 (cf. also his article "Unity of the Discourse in John 6," ZNW 50  277-78), the entire unit 6:49-58 is to be read as a midrashic interpretation to v. 6:31 "he gave them bread from heaven to eat" (Ps 78:24).
H. Schürmann, "Die Eucharistie.. ibid.
NTS 39 (1993) pp.22-35.
According to Perry the final editor employed yet another earlier eucharistic tradition (21:1-14) art.cit., pp.32ff.
T.Worden, "The Holy Eucharist in St. John," Scripture 15 (1963) 97-103.
In an honest statement B.Lindars has admitted that the discussion on the issue "would never have arisen if it had not been for the effect of the Reformation on Western theology"(The Gospel of John, 1972, p.261).
P.-M.Gy, "Liturgy and Spirituality: II. Sacraments and Liturgy in Latin Christianity," in B.McGinn and J.Meyendorff (eds.), Christian Spirituality I. Origins to the Twelfth Century, 1985, pp. 365-381.
C.K.Barrett, "The Flesh of the Son of Man' John 6.53," Essays in John, 1982, pp. 1-18.
Cf. P.Meyendorff, "Liturgy and Spirituality: I. Eastern Liturgical Theology," in Christian Spirituality I, pp. 350-363.
See also P.Vassiliadis, "The Anti-sacramentalistic Dimension of the Christian Mystery (A Comment on Jn 6,56)," Gregorios ho Palamas 73 (1990) 859- 866 (in Greek).
H.-D.Betz, "Magic and Mystery in the Greek Magical Papyri,” in C.A.Faraone and O.Obbink (eds.) Magica Hiera. Ancient Greek Magic and Religion, 1991, pp. 244-259, has recently convincingly showed how heavy the influence of Egyptian magic has been on the hellenistic Mystery cults.
More on this in B.Vawter, "The Gospel According to John,” New Jerome, II ad.loc.
Cf. also the interesting recent book of G.M.Burge, The Anointed Community. The Holy Spirit in the Johannine Tradition, 1989.
According to L.Bouyer,The Spirituality of the New Testament and the Fathers, 1963, the union of the Son with those who believe in him in Jn 6 has been prepared by the incarnation but is eventually realized through the sacraments, the spiritual dimension of which one can only grasp with faith; it is in this way only that humanity can participate in the communion that exists between the Father and the Son (p. 130).
Cf. my Cross and Salvation, 1983 (in Greek), an english summary of which can be found in a paper of mine delivered at the 1984 annual Leuven Colloquium (“Óôáõñüò: Centre of the Pauline Soteriology and Apostolic Ministry”, A.Vanhoye [ed.], L’Apôtre Paul. Personnalité, Style et Conception du Ministère, 1986, 246-253).
More on this pericope in J.D.G.Dunn “The Washing of the Disciples’ Feet in John 13,1-20,” ZNW 61 (1970) 247-252; D.Tripp, “Meaning of Foot-Washing: John 13 and Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 840,” ET 103 9 (1992) 237-239.
A.Destro-M.Pesce, “Gestualità e ritualità nel Vangelo di Giovanni: la lavanda dei piedi,” in this volume.
It is to be also noted that the redaction by the author of the 4th Gospel of another full of ritual connotation pericope - and closely related to the “eucharistic” incident of the “washing of the disciples’ feet” - namely that of of the “Anointing of Jesus” (Jn 12:1ff), may not be accidental. The evangelist not only placed this famous pericope in the same Passover setting as the pericope of the “Washing of the Disciples’ Feet” (Jn 13:1ff); he also replaced the unknown woman by Mary, a figure from within the most beloved by Jesus family of Lazarus, and in fact in contrast with her sister Martha, who according to an account in St. Luke’s Gospel was “anxious and troubled about many things (except) the one thing...needful” (Lk 10:41).What is, however, even more important for our case,is that by actually replacing the original, and by all means more authentic, place of the pouring of the “costly ointment of pure nard” from Jesus’ hair (Mk 14:3=Mt 26:7, originally understood as a prophetic act of messianic character, parallel to St. Peter’ s confession at Cesarea of Philip (Mk 8:27ff par) to Jesus’ feet (Jn 12:3), John made a woman proleptically anticipate the incident of the washing by Jesus Himself of His disciples’ feet. By so doing, John changed even an act of “witness” into an act of “diakonia”.
Cf also J. Zizioulas affirmation that "when it is understood in its correct and primitive sense - and not how it has come to be regarded even in Orthodoxy under the influence Western scholasticism - the eucharist is first of all an assembly (óýíáîéò), a community a network of relations..."(Being as Communion. Studies in Personhood and the Church, 1985, p.60). Cf. also his interesting remark:"the Fourth Gospel identifies eternal life, i.e. life without death, with truth and knowledge, (which) can be accom≠plished only if the individualization of nature becomes transformed into communion - that is if communion becomes identical with being. Truth, once again, must be communion if it is to be life" (p. 105).
 It is almost an assured result of modern theological scholarship (biblical and liturgical) that the Eucharist was “lived” in the early Christian community as a foretaste of the coming Kingdom of God, a proleptic manifestation within the tragic realities of history of an authentic life of communion, unity, justice and equality, with no practical differantiation (soteriological and beyond) between Jews and gentiles, slaves and freemen, men and women. This is, after all, the real meaning of what St. John has called “eternal life”. And because of this eucharistic experience, according to some historians, the Church was able later in the golden era to come up with the doctrine of trinity, the supreme expression ever produced in theology.
E.Lohse, Grundrisse, pp.155ff (of the Greek tr.)
There are some indications from the evidence of I Cor that in the early Church some circles were using elements from the mystery cults to interpret the meaning of Eucharist. As a result, it was believed that mysteriously a definite salvation was granted to the initiates . This view St. Paul tried to correct on the basis of ecclesiological criteria and his teaching on spiritual gifts and of the Church as the "Body of Christ". These ecclesiologically oriented views, which the entire early christian community shared, were of course contrary to the sacramentalistic/magical views of the Mystery cults. There it was believed that man through the sacrament acquired a power of life that is never lost. It was a widely held view that through initiation one shared the fate of deity, and by participating in his death and resurrection one acquired eternal salvation (cf. S.Agouridis, who in his commentary on I Corinthians, 1982 [in Greek] pp.161ff, entitles ch. 10 of the epistle: "Mysteries are not a guarantee for the future", and "Christianity is incompatible to Idololatry"). Later, the Gnostics following these sacramentalistic views celebrated baptism even for the dead, in an effort to energize this invincible power of baptism over death.