The Doctrine of Transubstantiation in the Orthodox Church

Does the Orthodox Church believe in “transubstantiation” (μετουσίωσις in Greek) with regards to the Eucharist? Or is that only used in the Latin (Roman Catholic) church?
There’s certainly a lot of confusion and conflicting information out there, so let’s take a closer look.

The Doctrine of Transubstantiation in the Orthodox ChurchAs a long-time blogger, I can vouch for the necessity of extending grace towards a writer when they are attempting to both honestly and carefully represent their beliefs. I intentionally place a disclaimer on my blog, making it plain that any mistakes or errors contained on the site are my own, and in no way discredit the Church. If one really wants to dive into the depths of our faith, the only place to do so is in the liturgical and confessional life of their local parish. Nevertheless, people keep telling me that my blog helps them, and so I keep on blogging. Lord, have mercy.

All that being said, I wanted to provide some brief comments on a new blog post by Dr. David J. Dunn titled “Top Ten Things Every Protestant Should Know About Eastern Orthodoxy.”

In point no. 4, Dunn writes:

4. The Eucharist? We call that Jesus. We believe it is actually the body and blood of Christ in the form of bread and wine, but we do not believe in transubstantiation. That is a Catholic thing. We believe it is a mystery. In other words, “It’s the body of Christ. Now stop asking so many stupid questions, and open your mouth!”

It is clear from these points that Dunn is attempting to be brief and even catchy with his wording of each point, and so I won’t be overly critical of his short and to-the-point summary.

However, since it seems to make a dubious claim on the point of transubstantiation, I thought I’d try and bring some more detailed clarity to the issue, in a way that was not intended by Dunn’s intentionally-short piece (which is fine, really).

The Latin belief on this point is as follows:

1376 The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: “Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.”

1413 By the consecration the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is brought about. Under the consecrated species of bread and wine Christ himself, living and glorious, is present in a true, real, and substantial manner: his Body and his Blood, with his soul and his divinity (cf. Council of Trent: DS 1640; 1651).

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), p. 347,356

In other words, Roman Catholics believe that transubstantiation is the “change” that occurs in the “whole substance” of the bread and wine set apart for the Eucharistic mystery. This is a change that takes place at the words of institution or consecration (i.e. “This is My Body,” etc.). There’s some Scholastic language here, of course, but that’s the basic gist.

In the Orthodox tradition, you will find it taught variously that this change takes place anywhere between the Proskomedia (the Liturgy of Preparation)—which is now a separate service prior to both Orthros and the Divine Liturgy on a typical Sunday, though traditionally it is done during Orthros—and the Epiklesis (“calling down”), or invocation of the Holy Spirit “upon us and upon these gifts here set forth” (as in Chrysostom’s liturgy). As such, the gifts should be treated with reverence throughout the entirety of the service. We don’t know the exact time in which the change takes place, and this is left to mystery. This view is common among those such as the reposed Fr. Alexander Schmemann and others, although many in the Orthodox tradition will also insist the change does actually take place at the words of institution.

The key point of emphasis in the Eastern tradition, then, is not whether or not a change takes place (even if we can’t understand or describe it precisely), but that it does emphatically take place.

During the iconoclasm controversy (eighth–ninth centuries), the change in the Eucharist was used to refute the arguments of iconoclasts who claimed the Eucharist was the only true icon of Christ. In these debates, the iconodule St. Theodore the Studite wrote, “We confess that the faithful receive the very body and blood of Christ, according to the voice of God himself.” The reality of transubstantiation was a refutation of iconoclasm. The Eucharist was not an icon of Christ, but was the real and true presence of the person Jesus Christ in the bread and wine of the Eucharist; or rather, a true symbol.

There have been at least three confessional documents in recent Orthodox memory that refer to the doctrine of transubstantiation by name. Some excerpts:

Fourthly, attention must be paid that the priest have, at the time of consecration, the intention that the real substance of the bread and the substance of wine be transubstantiated into the real body and blood of Christ through the operation of the Holy Spirit.

He makes this invocation when he confects this mystery by praying and saying: “Send your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here offered and make this bread the precious body of your Christ, and that which is in this chalice the precious blood of your Christ, changing them by your Holy Spirit.”

Transubstantiation occurs immediately with these words, and the bread is transubstantiated into the real body of Christ and the wine into the real blood of Christ, with the visible appearances alone remaining.

Orthodox Confession of Faith, Peter Mogila, Metropolitan of Kiev (1633-1647)

In Metropolitan Peter’s confession—which was widely adopted and sanctioned by multiple patriarchates in the seventeenth century—the change is said to occur at the time of the Epiklesis. This is in agreement with Roman Catholics. The use of the word μετουσίωσις here means that the bread, water, and wine are truly become the Body and Blood of Christ at the invocation of the Holy Spirit. They are not merely so in our imagination or as a bare symbol, but in the true, “Greek” sense of συμβολον, which means to bring two things together (in this case, the real presence of the person of Jesus Christ with the elements in the chalice).

He is not present typically, nor figuratively, nor by superabundant grace, as in the other Mysteries, nor by a bare presence, as some of the Fathers have said concerning Baptism, or by impanation, so that the Divinity of the Word is united to the set forth bread of the Eucharist hypostatically, as the followers of Luther most ignorantly and wretchedly suppose.

But truly and really, so that after the consecration of the bread and of the wine, the bread is transmuted, transubstantiated, converted and transformed into the true Body itself of the Lord, Which was born in Bethlehem of the ever-Virgin, was baptized in the Jordan, suffered, was buried, rose again, was received up, sits at the right hand of the God and Father, and is to come again in the clouds of Heaven; and the wine is converted and transubstantiated into the true Blood itself of the Lord, Which as He hung upon the Cross, was poured out for the life of the world.

Orthodox Confession of Dositheus, Patriarch of Jerusalem (1672)

In this confession of faith enjoying wide acceptance throughout the seventeenth century Orthodox Church, Patriarch Dositheus teaches that Christ is “truly and really” present in the Eucharistic elements. He does not mention here the timing of the change, but simply that the bread and wine are “transubstantiated” (again, μετουσίωσις) into the “true Body” and “true Blood” of the Lord.

340. How are we to understand the word transubstantiation?

In the exposition of the faith by the Eastern Patriarchs, it is said that the word transubstantiation is not to be taken to define the manner in which the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of the Lord; for this none can understand but God; but only thus much is signified, that the bread truly, really, and substantially becomes the very true Body of the Lord, and the wine the very Blood of the Lord. In like manner John Damascene, treating of the Holy and Immaculate Mysteries of the Lord, writes thus: “It is truly that Body, united with Godhead, which had its origin from the Holy Virgin; not as though that Body which ascended came down from heaven, but because the bread and wine themselves are changed into the Body and Blood of God. But if thou seekest after the manner how this is, let it suffice thee to be told that it is by the Holy Ghost; in like manner as, by the same Holy Ghost, the Lord formed flesh to himself, and in himself, from the Mother of God; nor know I aught more than this, that the Word of God is true, powerful, and almighty, but its manner of operation unsearchable.” (J. Damasc. Theol. lib. iv. cap. 13, § 7.)

Longer Catechism of the Orthodox, Catholic, Eastern Church by St. Philaret (Drozdov) of Moscow (1830)

In St. Philaret’s catechism, we are given the first distinction between the Eastern and Western description of transubstantiation of which I’m aware.

Writing in the nineteenth century, Philaret says that transubstantiation is not a reference to the change itself—since none can possibly understand exactly how/when this takes place—but that it is merely a reference to our Lord being “truly, really, and substantially” present in the Eucharist. In other words, it is not a reference to metaphysical or nominalist philosophy (as with Aristotle, for example), but is speaking to the reality of the change, albeit as beyond our comprehension.

In a sense, it is impossible to draw a true comparison between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox viewpoints on this issue, since only one communion has dogmatically ruled on the question.

In their dialogues and disputes with the Protestant reformers, the Latin Christians dogmatically ruled a number of issues that had previously been left to relative mystery—or were not as “officially” defined as at the Council of Trent and following.

In the rare cases where the Orthodox Church has responded to the arguments of the Reformers, the word transubstantiate is used to clarify the Orthodox position, in contradistinction from the positions of both Luther and Calvin (among others). However, this has never risen to the level of dogma, nor has it been ecumenically mandated. In other words, the Orthodox clergy were (wisely) using the words of their own day to differentiate themselves from the Protestants, while not necessarily painting themselves into a dogmatic corner. And it should be noted too that Scholasticism itself is not wholly foreign to Orthodoxy, nor is it exclusive of the West.

In the end, while I appreciate the aim of Dr. Dunn’s post, I think on this particular point he has overstated his case.

As Orthodox Christians, we must be careful to balance and nuance our claims, especially with regards to the Latins or “the West.” The last thing we want to do is oversimplify matters to the extent of seeming deceptive or—perhaps worse—misinformed. After all, this is typically what gets thrown our way from those unfamiliar with Orthodoxy (beyond literature), often justly putting us on the “defensive” (an important distinction from “triumphalism”) in response to such misrepresentations. That being said, I’m open to feedback if anyone (Roman or Orthodox) thinks I’ve misrepresented one side or the other in this article.


  1. You might find interesting this note from a recent publishing of “On Frequent Holy Communion” by Saint Nicodemus about how throughout the history of the Orthodox Church, many different terms have been used by many different Fathers and ecclesiastical writers to express (though not define or explain) the actual and real change that takes place in the Mystery:

    an anointing (chrisis – Theodore of Mopsuestia, Catechetical Homily 16.12, ST 145, 553);
    a becoming (genesis – Serapion of Thmuis, “Prayer of the Offering,” The Sacramentary of Serapion [Thessaloniki: 1967], 125);
    a blessing (eulogia – Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great: “And bless [these Gifts] and sanctify them and show them to be…);
    a bringing into sight (hyp’ opsin agoge – Dionysios the Areopagite, De Ecclesiastica Hierarchia 3.3.2-13, PG 3, 444A-444C);
    a completion (teleiosis – Germanos of Constantinople, Historia Ecclesiastica, et Mystica Contemplatio PG 98, 437A);
    a consecration (hierourga – Gregory of Nyssa, In Baptismum Christi, PG 46, 581C);
    a conversion (conversio – Ambrose of Milan, De Sacramentis 4.5.23, SC 25^bis, 114);
    a divinization (theourgia – Theodore the Studite, Epistolarum 2.203, PG 99, 1617C);
    a descending upon/dwelling in (epidemia – Serapion of Thmuis, “Prayer of the Offering,” The Sacramentary of Serapion, 125);
    an immixture (emmixis – Eutychios of Constantinople, Sermo de Paschate et de Eucharistia 2, PG 86^2, 2393C);
    a making (poiesis – Cyril of Jerusalem, Mystagogiae 5.7, SC 126, 154);
    a making-divine (theopoiesis – Symeon the New Theologion, Ethical Discourses 3, SC 122, 428);
    a manifestation (apophansis – Irenaius of Lyons, Fragmenta 38, PG 7, 1253B);
    a mutation (mutatio – Ambrose of Milan, De Mysteriis 9.52 SC 25^bis, 186);
    a sanctification (hagiasmos – Mark of Ephesus, De Corpore et Sanguine Christi, PG 160, 1080A);
    a sending upon (katapempsis – Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom);
    a showing forth (anadeixis – Basil the Great, De Spiritu Sancto 27.66, SC 17^bis, 480);
    a transelementation (metastoicheiosis – Gregory of Nyssa, Oratio Catechetica 37, PG 45, 97B);
    a transformation (metaskeue – John of Damascus, Vita Barlaam et Joasaph, PG 96, 1032A);
    a transmutation (metabole – Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom; Theodoret of Cyr, Eranistes 1, PG 83, 56B);
    a transorientation (metarrythmisis – John Chrysostom, De Proditione Iudae 1.6, PG 49, 380);
    a transubstantiation (metousiosis – Gennadios Scholarios, De Sacramentali Corpore Christi 1, PG 160, 360C);
    a transversion (metapoiesis – Cyril of Alexandria, In Mattheum 26.27, PG 72, 452C);
    a uniting (syzeuxis – Samonas of Gaza, De Sacramento Altaris, PG 120, 829B);
    a visitation (epiphoitesis – John Chrysostom, On John 45.2, PG 59, 253).

    1. I’m protestant but have more leanings 2 the orthodox church. I believe that if Jesus said it was his body and blood I believe but hesitate 2 explain it. The Moravians have this understanding however I’m not so sure as they don’t use wine

  2. I really love how you have emphasised how we tend to make wide sweeping statements that may or may not misrepresent us at great cost to real worthwhile discussion. I wonder if a great deal of the disputes that exist between denominations couldn’t be brought a great deal closer to resolution if we would actually bother to put in the effort to define our terms and not just simplify everything to the point of generalization. I think this is something that we as Orthodox Christians must be more careful of precisely because it contributes not only to our misrepresentation to other but also to the misinformation of the faithful.

  3. So, as a newly minted Orthodox Christian who has a lifetime of experience as an active Catholic, and a degree in Catholic Theology, there is one distinction, a point where I think the RCC went too far in its scholastic synthesis, especially in reply to the alleged “bare symbol” assertion of the protestant theologians, namely, the annihilation of the “metaphysical substance” of bread and wine in the change. This has always been a point of difficulty for many Catholics, since the only possible response to the assertion that the bread ceases to be bread is either a suspension of rational logic in service to alleged faith, or disbelief of a misunderstood teaching in service of acknowledging reality. See, our pre-first-communion second grade studies in Ancient Greek Philosophy were somewhat lacking, I’m afraid… Even having studied these things now, I disagree that it makes sense to say that something has had its metaphysical substance replaced while retaining the same physical, material reality. Metaphysical substance isn’t like cream or jelly filling in a donut, after all. (Mmmm donuts…really happy that we are about to celebrate the Dormition of the Theotokos!)

    Really, this is one of the things I love about Orthodox fidelity to Holy Tradition, we actually pay attention to what has been said, and don’t change it unless it’s decidedly heterodox. As I studied theology, and looked at the earliest things that our fathers had to say about eucharist, I discovered that one of them, Irenaus or Justin Martyr, or someone like that, wrote that the bread and wine over which thanks has been given now have two realities, one earthly (bread and wine still) and the other heavenly (the Immaculate Body and Precious Blood of Christ) (my summary). So, the bread and wine don’t stop being bread and wine, but also are the Body and Blood of Christ, really and truly, the Real Presence of Christ in Mystery. I also happen to think that this is the root understanding of the Germanic theologians holding the “per symbolum” description of the “how” of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, over against the Parisians who championed “transubstantiation,” which was, in their minds, not just a “what” label for “change.”

    A friend of mine who was an ordained protestant minister become Roman Catholic clued me into the notion of “consubstantiation.” I’m not familiar with all the nuances and connotations of that term, but I think it may be more useful, if we’re wanting a name to expressing the reality of the Presence of Christ’s Body and Blood in the elements of the chalice. It preserves the notion of the heavenly and earthly realities together, and doesn’t necessitate a discussion of “how” those two realities got there, beyond identifying the eucharistic liturgy. I think this probably captures the consensus of the fathers, but if not, someone let me know.

    Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever dwelt on the bread and wine aspects of the eucharist when receiving communion, even from the age of seven. It’s always been simply the Body and Blood of Christ in my main awareness, and a profound moment of communion with Christ, so the discussion of how has always been, to me, something of a moot point. I’ve always known it’s bread and wine, but it’s always been very different than the bread I would eat for food, and the wine I’d drink by the glass, not because of taste and texture, but because of the overriding reality of Christ’s Presence. We don’t, liturgically, mention Christ, our Venerable Jewish Rabbi, even though Jesus was that, but rather Christ, our True God. I think the same principle applies in discussions of how bread and wine can be the Body and Blood of Christ.

    1. I agree that consubstantiation may have some useful parallels. When I was studying Reformation history and theology back ca. 2005 it seemed to make the most sense out of the various Western European alternatives. But from recent Wikipedia checks (I know, I’m skating on thin ice here), it seems it’s important to distinguish between consubstantiation, impanation, and sacramental union (the latter apparently being the standard Lutheran understanding). The catechism of Dositheos cited above criticizes at least one of those notions: “or by impanation, so that the Divinity of the Word is united to the set forth bread of the Eucharist hypostatically, as the followers of Luther most ignorantly and wretchedly suppose.” But this seems to be more of a polemical caricature of the Lutheran position than a real rebuttal, esp. since Luther distinguished this union from the hypostatic union of the natures in Christ.

    2. Michael: “So, as a newly minted Orthodox Christian who has a lifetime of experience as an active Catholic, and a degree in Catholic Theology, there is one distinction, a point where I think the RCC went too far in its scholastic synthesis, especially in reply to the alleged “bare symbol” assertion of the protestant theologians, namely, the annihilation of the “metaphysical substance” of bread and wine in the change. This has always been a point of difficulty for many Catholics, since the only possible response to the assertion that the bread ceases to be bread is either a suspension of rational logic in service to alleged faith, or disbelief of a misunderstood teaching in service of acknowledging reality.”

      This is not congruent with how I have heard Transubstantiation explained by any Catholic I’ve spoken with. On the contrary, while Trent only defines that the bread and wine are substantially changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, the dogma is very often paired with the idea that the change occurs in the *substance* of the bread and wine, but the *accidents* are not changed.

      Thus (and I have encountered many Catholics insist on this), if one were to, as some irreverent people insist, subject the Elements to chemical analysis, they would still maintain the chemical properties of bread and wine. Every Catholic I have ever heard confronted with such a challenge has responded with some variation of “Of course it would!”

      This is, as I’ve understood it, where the Orthodox tend to get off the boat, because, while we do not have an objection in principle to the *teaching*, it also tends to be (or, at least, seems to be) too closely tied to Aristotelian metaphysics for us to accept the dogmatization of this one, particular understanding of the Eucharist over all others.

      BTW, the issue with consubstantiation is that it is not in line with what we actually say at the Liturgy (which is also the same issue even many Lutherans have with the doctrine). We do not say, “Let Your Body and Your Blood subsist alongside this bread and wine…” but, rather, “May this bread and wine *be changed* into your Body and Blood through the Holy Spirit.”

      1. Lutherans are uncomfortable with “change” language. But in our Eucharistic Prayer we say, “We now present to you from your creation this bread and wine. By your Holy Spirit May they become for us the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That sounds like a change. When it happens is not certain, nor is how it happens. Lutherans understand “Transubstantiation” to be philosophical explanation for how Christ’s body and blood come to the bread and wine. Lutherans day this is an unknowable mystery. They are most comfortable with the term “Real Presence” by which they mean that Jesus is fully and actually present and received in the sacrament. They have no disagreement with either the Roman Catholic or Orthodox churches on that.

    1. Orthodox do not worship the Eucharist. My understanding of the theology may be off-beam, in which case, forgive me, but the Eucharist is how we unite ourselves to Christ. We take it into our bodies and become one with it. To legitimize the worship of the Eucharist would therefore be to legitimize the worship of human beings who partake of it. Obviously we don’t want to do that! We worship God in His Essence, not God’s Energies, His Grace or His Gifts, though we honour and venerate the latter. In this, of course, is included the Theotokos and all the Saints, who are also One with God’s Energies.

      1. Blair;
        From what I understand, this is part of the reason why the Latins have rejected Consubstantiation. If the substance bread remains with the divine Christ, it cannot be adored.


        I think Blair is saying that if one can worship the Christ present in the elements, than one can worship the Christ present in the Christian without worshipping the human itself. It seems to me that Blair would reject this practice for the same reason he wouldreject the adoration of Christ in the believer.

    2. Russian Orthodox certainly to worship the Holy Sacrament: and how one worships shows what one believes. The Russians prostrate themselves in worship when the priest enters in procession carrying the unconsecrated bread, as if in anticipation of the mystical change to take place (or perhaps the transubstatiation is considered already to have taken place?) Also, the Russian Orthodox prostrate themselves once again in adoration just before receiving Christ in Holy Communion. They obviously intend to pay Christ in the Sacrament honour and worship. As one of the Fathers of the Church admonished: ”Let no one receive the Body of Christ, without first worhipping It.” The Easter Orthodox priests treat the consecrated bread and wine with great respect, and reserve Christ upon the altar, just as Catholics do, in a sort of tabernacle, with a burning light to indicate His presence. So, these age-old acts of orthodox worship and honour demonstrate the legitimacy of worshipping and honouring our Lord in the Sacrament of the Altar.

      1. Prostration does not equal worship. The Orthodox also prostrate before icons, each other, etc.

        There is some haziness at times between how worship and veneration (which is sometimes called “relative worship” or even just “worship”) get used in various translations, but the spiritual acts and intention are themselves fundamentally different.

        1. One of the Church councils ( Blachernae in Constantinople condemned those who refused to adore Christ’s divinized flesh United with his divinity. I believe this applies to the Eucharist. Of course we adore the Eucharist because we adore Christ and he is fully present in the Mystery. In the eastern tradition, there were never para liturgical devotions dedicated solely to adoring Christ in the Eucharist but that is a separate issue. To deny this worship is to deny the real presence. The official documents that discuss the Eucharist make it clear that Christ is truly and substantially present, the whole Christ. So this worship follows consistently from the faith believed. As I Deacon, I say when about to commune.. “Lo, I draw near unto Christ, our immortal king and our God. Master impart unto me, the Unworthy Deacon John, the precious and all holy body of our Lord, God, and Saviour Jesus Christ into remission of my sins and unto Life everlasting. ” so If you are denying worship of the Eucharist, which is Christ made present, then I would have to disagree. This is no mere honor, this is Latria, Adoration…unless you want to divide it from the Living Christ and deny that it is Living Bread, not dead separated from Him. We say having partaken of the Divine, holy, immaculate immortal, heavenly and life giving and awesome mysteries of Christ…Let us worthily give thanks unto the Lord. And in the prayer behind the Ammo of Saint Basil, we hear these words, WHO art broken, yet not severed, who art eaten, yet never consumed, but sanctifying those who partake thereof. ” It is Christ that we partake of Who is worthy of all adoration. It is through the Eucharist that He is “with us always even unto the end of the world”.

  4. Thank you for the information. I was raised Southern Baptist and just now beginning to explore Orthodoxy. So many questions??? I have been to two DL’s thus far and to say it was a different experience is an under statement. I felt the presence of our Lord! No “rock concert” bands, no pews, just reverence and respect.

  5. I’d like to know more re: Orthodoxy and attitudes toward the Eucharist. Specifically relating to the comment above that “Orthodox do not Worship the Eucharist”.

  6. I find it wierd that you realize the bread became his actual body and the wine became his actual blood, yet you don’t think you should worship Him as while present in His body or His blood. How can you know it’s Him but not worship Him?

    1. We’re obeying what He said to do with the Eucharist: “Take, eat.” “Drink of this, all of you.”

      We worship Him by that obedience. It’s food and drink “indeed,” as He said.

      The argument you’re making is that we should treat the Eucharist as identical to Christ in every way. So do we pray to it? Do we say that the Eucharist is present in the womb of the Virgin? That she is the mother of the Eucharist? That the Eucharist died for us and rose for us? Are we baptized into the Eucharist?

      Yes, the Eucharist is Christ, but it is Christ given to us as food and drink. The mode is important, not just the identification.

      1. Dear Father

        I am a Roman Catholic, born and raised, and I find myself emotionally detached to Eucharistic Adoration, though I intellectually know that it is Jesus Christ’s Body and Blood that looks like bread and wine. I felt spiritually dead and disappointed by the lack of awareness of sanctity whenever I see that bread in the monstrance.

        And the fact that you’ve explained that Christ became for us food and drink to eat and drink gives me a perspective on a possible reason as to why I felt so alienated, or at least confused by Eucharistic Adoration. Bread and Wine are meant to be consumed, and it is just strange to isolate Bread and claim it is Our Lord’s Body, but to not eat or drink His Body and Blood.

        This also ties in to the strange feeling I have regarding the discipline of the Catholic Church which gave rise to the teaching that Eucharistic Bread, consecrated as Body of Christ, is Body and Blood, and sufficient for the faithful who wishes to commune. I am really disturbed by the fact that on one hand, Our Lord gave us Bread and Wine to be His Body and Blood, but then is claimed by Catholic authorities through theological gymnastics, that Bread alone is sufficient, and has both the Body and Blood of Our Lord, despite the absence of wine.

        I am really saddened, because as a Roman Catholic, I despise the irreverent attitude mainstream Catholics have at Mass, especially when receiving the Eucharist (even in both kinds) from women and lay people, and picking up His Body with their dirty fingers that went through their bags and wallets and handled money to give to the collectors. So I tried to go to the Traditional Latin Mass, and accepted the premise that communion only with bread is sufficient.

        I feel like I have no choice but to go to either Eastern Catholicism, or Orthodoxy. Yet I feel the need to be loyal to Rome, so my conscience is left a mess, and if it is not resolved soon, I may end up an atheist.

        1. if you are at risk of atheism because of loyalty to the RC church, then your loyalty is not to God but a structure, and that loyalty to a structure is of dubious value spiritually since it is apparently severed from loyalty to Jesus Christ. Sure the structure can be argued to be God made, but it went through some changes in the west leading to Rome’s schism from us.

        2. First, this article is interesting and informative to me.The problem you describe is not with the theology, but with irreverent people. I converted from Protestantism to Catholicism and I saw no better behavior in Protestant churches than in the Catholic Church. I can not speak for the Orthodox but I suspect they have the same issue at times. One must pray for these people.

          I should add that I almost became an Orthodox Christian instead of a Catholic Christian and I might fit in better in Eastern Rite Catholic Church, but I am where I am. I have great respect for Orthodoxy, even if I disagree on more specifics than I do with Catholicism.

          The reason we sometimes go to bread alone is because there is insufficient wine or to avoid spreading disease, such as influenza. However, in my parish, both species are allowed this season after requests from the laity. Remember, the blood must be in the body for the body to be real.

          I am one of those who wants to see the Orthodox and Catholic Churches re-unite as soon as possible. You could work for that as well. I have discussed this with Catholic and with Orthodox priests. Before you move again, (and I would say this to any Catholic or Orthodox) I must ask: Have you spoken with your priest?

      2. The answer to all your questions here is yes… Though we would not refer to out Lord as an ” It”. The fathers are clear…we are receiving the same flesh that was conceived in the Womb of the Virgin and was crucified for us. The Holy Fathers explicitely say this. Mary as the New Ark did contain the Living Bread. We don’t worship the Eucharist as a “thing” or as separate from the Living Christ but as his sacramental presence among us. It is really novel to make the reverse identification that Christ is the Eucharist as if that is the central mode of his presence. No adorer of Christ would speak of it this way… For the Body never becomes the bread… The bread becomes the BODY.

  7. Good evening Nick, that’s actually a really great question. If you have any extra time on your hands, it may be worth getting your hands on Dr. Brant Pitre’s book . The Jewish background to saying that the Eucharist of the Divine Liturgy is the actual body and blood of Christ is that Christ Himself makes the comparison of the New Covenant Supper to the Old Covenant Passover, Manna from heaven, and offering of the Bread of Presence in the Temple.

    I’m not sure that my attempt to explain it would do the book any justice, though if you are curious to know I can clarify. =) God bless.

  8. Hi, I am Catholic of the Latin Rite, I am so happy that in spite of the differences in interpretation by the belief is the same real and true presence of the Body and Blood of Christ under the appearance of bread and wine, the reason why in the West the Church of Rome has to define it as a dogma is to answer the challenge posed by the heresy of Berengarius of Tours who attacked this doctrine which did not surfaced on the East, that is why the West has to respond to it in the scholastic thought…but still the same faith shared by the two Churches before the 1054 Great Schism

  9. As a person who was “saved” in the Protestant sense at an early age and have “bounced around” every Protestant sect for 40 years (it seems) looking for The Truth, I find this discussion both fascinating and exhausting.

    I didn’t even know about the Orthodox Church until a few years ago, “the best kept secret in America” (as I read it described once) is a good, (albeit somewhat sad) description.

    The Orthodox Church has much to teach the heterodox, and I feel I’ve been deprived of a lot…I just wonder if the Orthodox would even entertain the idea that the heterodox have anything to… offer them… (I’m being very careful with my wording.)

    From my experience, Communion is a solemn, Holy Ceremony, where we remember exactly what it represents: the broken body and blood of our Saviour. It’s a very deep and personal experience, one that should move us to tears of sadness and joy combined.

    But this only scratches the surface…

    This is not, however, what I see at Catholic Churches, (at least not Roman).

    Somewhere, IMHO, the true meaning of this Memoriam is lost in the “One Church’s” scholastic discussions, which I liken to Rabbis discussing details of their Talmudic Laws. (Sorry if this comes across as harsh, but it has to be said.)

    I’m not surprised that the lost of this world would call the Church “cannibals” and want the Eucharist tested in a lab, and frankly, you shouldn’t be surprised either…

    Christ at His Transfiguration showed us the glory of the new, Incorruptible, Immortal Body that we will also “put on” someday. (Well, maybe I won’t, according to Rome)

    Isn’t it that body and blood that you are eating and drinking of? A new spiritual body? Or is this heresy?
    (at least I’m not writing to a Roman Catholic, because the spiritual bonfire would already be gleefully lit under me. Sorry for the analogy, but that’s been my experience after 40 years of talking with them. I’ve discovered that most Orthodox aren’t as ready with a can of gasoline and matches as they are, though.)

    1. Scott, I’m Roman Catholic, and I’m sorry that you and others have been subject to spiritual bonfires and had not experienced the solemnity, passion, joy, and love of God in Holy Communion in the Catholic Church. That is a fault of imperfect humans, who are sinners and in constant need of God’s grace. Indeed, the Catholic Church is as much a church of sinners as it is a church of saints.
      I’m happy to read how both Catholic and Orthodox Christians have much in common, particularly regarding the Eucharist, and I pray, as the Catholic Church does, for unity among Christians everywhere.

  10. Dear all
    Thank you for the enlightening posts, especially Pete’s list of terms. I appreciate the Orthodox Church and have gone to pray at the different local Orthodox Churches from time to time. I thought the Eucharist was reserved in the Orthodox churches in a sanctuary area behind the screen.

    I think that Tolkien a devout Roman Catholic (his mother was a convert) said that there were two things in the Catholic Church which inspired him most: the Blessed Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
    He said that there was all the beauty, joy and hope that the world needed.

  11. I am a Catholic priest of the Roman Rite, who is very familiar with Eastern Orthodoxy since my early youth. I think that you have stated both the Catholic and the Orthodox position pefectly clearly. We do share the same faith in the Holy Eucharist, only that our Roman position has been – out of necessity – dogmaitacally defined, as you so well put it. Indeed, as the Orthodox of that time understood, the Council of Trent did not dogmatise aristotelianism, nor the aristotelian theory of form and matter: it only dogmatised the fact that the bread and wine during the Mass become really, truly and substantially the living Body and Blood of Christ, the outward appearances alone remaning unchanged. Thank you!

  12. Our Lord was saying, that His Body – if eaten dead – would avail nothing. But He gives does not give us His dead Body! Rather, He gives us His true, living, risen, Spirit-filled Body and Blood to receive within us. We are not cannibals, for we are not annihilating the living Christ by receiving Him into our mouths and bodies: it is much more like a marriage union, where two Bodies and Souls come together. But Holy Communion is even more intimate, for the whole Christ – not just a part of Him – comes into us completely and remains for as long as the species are undigested. The Apostels said: This is a hard teaching, who can bare it? Our Lord did not take back His words – ”Unless yout eat my Body, you shall have no life within you!” Rather, He said: ”Do you to wish to leave me? The Apostles said: No, Lord, for whereto shall we go?” So must we accept our Lord’s gift of His Body and BLood in the Holy Communion, without , for where else shall we go and find Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, than in the Sacrament of His Body and BLood, which He gave to His Church to perpetuate until He come again in glory ?

  13. I don’t understand that position that some have that transubstantiation requires one to buy onto Aristotelian metaphysics. Transubstantiation simply states that the bread and wine change in substance, but not in accident, to the Body and Blood of Christ. Accordingly, it seems to simply require one to believe that things are composed of substance and accident, which I’m pretty sure all of the Fathers did. From this it follows that the Eucharist changes substantially but not accidentally (otherwise we wouldn’t see bread/wine after the change).

    What are your opinions?

  14. Is the Body and Blood when consumed meant to bring me closer to Jesus? By faith I believe He has sealed me with His Holy Spirit and it is no longer I who live, but Christ Who lives in me. How could I get any closer than this? However I do believe I am strengthened and transformed from glory to glory by taking His real Body and Blood into my body. Seeing it as getting closer to Jesus seems to me to be works-based leading to pride and not of grace. Please explain if I my understanding is faulty. From a simple Christian…

    1. there are degrees of closeness. and “works” is generally misrepresented to protestants by protestants, who don’t read Galatians straight through. the “works of the law” are
      the covenant specific works of the Torah (law) of Moses, circumcision and food laws,
      these are SPECIFIED as the issue. Colossians mentions Sabbath keeping (mentioned as a covenant sign in one of the Pentateuch books) and new moons and holy days of Mosaic calendar. Acts 15 Apostolic Council eliminated all that.

  15. This is a very good post. I’m a Latin Christian with a bit of background in Thomism, and I generally see “transubstantiation” in the Thomistic sense as a particular attempt at a metaphysical explanation of what goes on in the liturgy. However, I have my doubts about claims that Trent requires a Thomistic understanding of the Eucharist, because there are plenty of non-Thomistic explanations in the West that have never been condemned. So, it seems that the Latin Church really intends the word transubstantiation to mean that Christ’s body and blood are truly present in the Eucharist. I think this is similar to what is meant by the Orthodox who use the term, although they (for good reason) want to more heavily emphasize the mystical aspects.

  16. Peace Nick,

    Though I disagree with the Church of Rome on this issue, Transubstantiationalists would not be guilty of the charge of cannobalism. Christ is literally present, but not locally present as Thomas Aquinas explicitly states in the Summa Theologica. Christ is literally present in substance (synonymous with essence as he uses it) and is present in a sacramental manner. So Christ’s body is not physically pressed with the teeth.

    Aquinas said that we consume the whole body of Christ through “concomitance” (the same way eating in one kind conveys the full body), but not carnally. Cannibalism would require a local, physical presence and carnal consumption.

  17. Thanks for the blog and the discussion and the tone of all involved.

    The idea of literal transubstantiation was a sticking point for me. It was the idea that the bread and wine could have both natures as Irenaeus stated, “For as the bread from the earth, receiving the invocation of God, is no longer common bread but the eucharist, consisting of two elements, earthly and heavenly…” St. Irenaeus of Lyons (Against Heresies 4:18:4-5). As I considered Orthodoxy, this was the last domino to fall.

    I can accept that the bread and wine are the body, but that the elements remain recognizable as bread and wine. Perhaps this is too metaphysical.

    The fact that this was left as a mystery and is not dogma, allowed me to come to Orthodoxy. Maybe I lack sufficient faith.

  18. Interesting article. Its important to point out, however, that all the texts you shared come from a period in Orthodox Church history that was highly latinized, if not dominated by latin theology. The statements in those catechisms in no way represent a traditional Orthodox approach to the eucharist. St. Nikomdemus’ work gives a more well-rounded approach to the subject. The more authentic approach I believe is: a change occurs, how and when are not exactly certain. One can identify certain key moments, but it ever should become a theological science. There never was a “real presence” theology in Orthodoxy. Not because we deny the real presence but because we do not limit the real presence of Christ to the eucharist. It deifies complete definition and complete rational explanation.

  19. Wow, thank you so much! This clarified a lot. I’m currently Rom an Catholic but live where I could study with the Greeks. Love so much about that tradition. And, I’m a Eucharistic Minister and a convert. So, again, this article helped a lot. God’s Blessings & Peace this Easter Season.

  20. At the last supper, when the Lord Jesus picked up bread and broke it, and picked up a cup of wine, and said, “This is my body”, and “This is my blood”, etcetera, who imagines that any of the twelve apostles took him literally? I wouldn’t have, in their position!

    What could Jesus possibly have meant, if he had been making a literal assertion at the last supper, as later teachers in the church have taught, about the “substances” (whatever that theological word means) of the two substances that he was holding at the times concerned, the bread (or former bread) and the wine (or former wine)?

    In 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul teaches that a man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup (wine), for anyone who eats and drinks without “recognizing” the body and blood of the Lord, drinks judgment on himself, because he has eaten the bread and drunk the wine in an “unworthy manner”, a sin against the body and blood of the Lord.

    In Protestant churches and in Orthodox churches alike, this reading is used in the liturgy of the Lords Supper (as the apostle Paul calls it in Corinthians). What we teach should encourage faith in the believer, not mess with his mind, sending him on a guilt and doubt trip, as the exact meaning of “recognizing” the body and blood of the Lord.”

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