God’s Bread

People gather to receive a piece of traditional Christmas bread in BelgradeOur contemporary life is often deeply removed from reality. We eat like royalty, travel like magicians, taking everything for granted. In 1991, I was serving in a parish (Anglican) that sponsored a Russian family for immigration. The Soviet Union had fallen, but little had changed in their homeland. I recall taking them to their first visit to an American grocery store with their translator. It was like a dream to them. Their first question startled me, “Is all of this for sale?” They had an idea that it might just be “for show.” I was humbled as I realized how much I took for granted.

This distance between us and the simple reality of our lives makes it difficult for us to understand the gospel. When the Scriptures speak of bread, we have no feeling for the word. Bread is just something we eat (or avoid). Today it is something we debate and fear (gluten). But it means very little to us.

The context of the Scriptures is not necessarily a context of scarcity, but it is certainly a context where drought produces famine and seasons determine what is eaten. According to paleontologists, human civilization begins with the cultivation of grain. Hunters and gatherers cannot sustain life on the level of a town. Grain was as essential as fire in the history of humanity.

This distance, it seems to me, also interferes with our comprehension of the sacraments. In my Anglican years I recall a common clergy joke about the wafers used in the liturgy. It was said that there were two acts of faith: to believe that the bread became the Body of Christ, and also to believe that the wafer was actually bread. I would extend this even to contemporary Orthodoxy. The bread is obviously bread (it is baked in the parish and is leavened). But our hearts are deeply removed from even its “breadly” reality.

Bread has been called the “staff of life.” In ancient Greece and Rome the bread ovens were often public, maintained at city expense. The baking of bread was thus something of a community event (a custom that probably stretched deep into time). It was the essential food of the ancient diet, the primary form of charity. In the early Church, members brought loaves of bread as an offering. The deacons chose the best loaves for the liturgy. The rest were shared afterwards or distributed to the poor.

In Orthodox Churches of the Russian tradition, small loaves (prosphora) are baked and given to the priest with a list of names to be remembered. prosphThe priest removes particles from the loaves and places them on the diskos along with the Eucharistic offering. The names and loaves are returned to the faithful who take them home and consume them – often as part of their morning prayers. It is a Eucharistic connection that continues throughout the week.

Few would desire to return to the dangers of famine. Nevertheless, we would do well to return to a proper attitude towards our food. We should eat slowly and thankfully, with a mind towards the goodness of God and the labor that has produced our bounty.

In my recent trip to England I was struck by the amount of farmland. Everywhere outside of villages, the land was given to farming. The wheat fields in particular were “white for the harvest.” America has seen the shrinking of its farmland over the entire course of its history. Recent decades have been especially hard. It is possible for children to grow up with no awareness of farms or where the food they eat comes from. There is clearly a diminishment of our humanity in all of this.

Eucharistic living is marked by the giving of thanks. It is also marked by the presence of bread. Bread is as essential to the Eucharist as is Christ Himself. In His great condescension, the Lord of the Harvest has united Himself with the harvest itself.

“Lord, give us this bread always.”

O God, our God, Who didst send the Heavenly Bread, the food of the whole world, our Lord and God Jesus Christ, to be our Savior, Redeemer, and Benefactor, blessing and sanctifying us:  Bless this Offering, and accept it upon Thy heavenly altar.  Remember those who offered it and those for whom it was offered, for Thou art good and lovest mankind.  Preserve us blameless in the celebration of Thy divine mysteries.  For sanctified and glorified is Thy most honorable and majestic name: of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.  Amen.

From the Service of Preparation

 

 

Comments

  1. Eric says

    Father Bless! Thank you for this reminder father. I often eat my lunch as quickly as possible so I can get to the next patient. I forget, as I’m shoveling down the food, the sacramental reality and God’s great care for us in the simple act of eating. Thanks again…

  2. says

    I think many health problems in our society have stemmed from our unhealthy perspective regarding food. We consume so much and so thoughtlessly, not realizing that Christ is our true Bread (as St Maximos writes regarding the phrase “give us this day our daily bread”).

    As a result, scientists have worked to make crop production more efficient and plentiful; consequently, research is beginning to indicate that our plethora of genetic modifications could be causing us quite a bit of harm…though I suspect our attitude toward food to be a greater harm.

  3. Angela says

    Excellent essay, Father. It has inspired me to help my children make a better connection with where our blessings come from,of course from God, but to think about and remember those human hands that God uses to bring us blessings. I grew up around farms and knew what happened to pigs and cows and chickens. I used to pluck the feathers off the chickens! I understood the labor and harvest and also sadness and joy of bringing food onto the table. It is something that I think my children might be missing. I liked this line especially, “It is possible for children to grow up with no awareness of farms or where the food they eat comes from. There is clearly a diminishment of our humanity in all of this.” Thank you, Father!

  4. fatherstephen says

    Every meal should be a communion with God, from Whom all good things come. But it should also be a communion with the earth and sky (rain) that yielded it, the hands that planted and harvested. In short, it should and can be a communion with all things. And this is in accordance with the will of God.

    …in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1Th 5:18)

    How many things in your life can you do with confidence that it is, in fact, the will of God? This is so easy.

  5. Robb says

    “John 4:34:King James 2000 Bible:Jesus said unto them, My food is to do the will of him (the Father in Heaven) that sent me, and to finish his work.”
    Context: The Disciples Return and Marvel
    Jn. 4.33 So the disciples were saying to one another, “No one brought Him anything to eat, did he?” 34Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work. 35″Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest ‘? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest.…
    Cross References:
    Psalm 40:8
    I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.”

    Matthew 3:15
    Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

    Luke 2:49
    “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

    John 5:30
    By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.

    John 5:36
    “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish–the very works that I am doing–testify that the Father has sent me.

    John 6:38
    For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.

    John 8:29
    The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”

    John 17:4
    I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.

    John 19:28
    Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”

    John 19:30
    When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

  6. Dino says

    The article reminded me of one more blessing bestowed by fasting, that of the proper, eucharistic appreciation of food.

  7. Dean says

    Father Stephen…
    Thank you for this reminder of how blessed we are in the U.S. despite the lack of rain in places. The drought here in the San Joaquin Valley of California is especially severe and since we live in a rural community I daily see its effects on the farmland. Many wells have run dry, fruit and nut trees torn out or simply left to wither. Other farmers chose to plant nothing this year since pumping water is so expensive. Even here in the land of abundance millions have insufficient to eat. So we have plenty of opportunities to practice almsgiving and each day to offer our good God thanks for the daily bread He richly offers… most especially for His most pure body and precious blood offered to us in every liturgy. Thank God for His indescrible gift!

  8. fatherstephen says

    Gregory,
    When my daughter lived in Siberia, she seemed to have little or no food allergy issues, eating mostly from private gardens. Your observation holds up.