I am the bread of life, John 6:35
This article is adopted from Malankara Orthodox Church Diocese of South-West America website "ds-wa.org"; Written by Rev Fr. KK John
St.John recorded seven statements by which Jesus Christ declared His deity that is; He was one with God the Father. They are, (1) "I am the bread of life," 6:35. (2) "I am the light of the world," 8:12. (3) "I am the door," 10:9. (4) "I am the good shepherd," 10:11. (5) "I am the resurrection," 11:25. (6) "I am the way, the truth and life" 14:6. (7) "I am the true vine," 15:1.
Man had always been inquisitive and asked who God is, what His attributes are and how He relates to man, etc. All those who stoutly pursued seeking God concluded that finite human wisdom is incapable to fathom the infinite God and that one can understand God only to the extend God Himself revealed to him. Inspired Word of God is not by itself revelation but true guide to revelation, which is Jesus Christ. God spoke to Moses in the burning yet not consumed bush in the Mount Horeb. God initiated a dialogue saying, "I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob," Ex 3:6. Then God conveyed him His determination to deliver Israelites from Egyptian bondage and commissioned Moses with the task. Moses was unwilling because of his fear and difficulty to talk fluently. God remedied his frailty. Then Moses inquired of the name of God. God said, "I am who I am, you shall say to children of Israel, I AM has sent me to you," Ex 3:14. The 'I AM' God further clarified His name as 'YAHVEH.' Yahweh (Jehovah in English) stands for, "One who brings into being whatever comes into being." Thus Jehovah is the creator of all visible and invisible beings. The Septuagint version says, "He who is." 'Yahweh' derived from the root Hebrew word 'Haya,' that means 'which exists', or 'which works.' Thus Yahweh is the God who exists or God who is at work. However, one cannot but perceive astounding expression of awesome nature of God in the very statement. God is always referred to in present tense. Immutable quality of God is that God is self-existent and eternal. The name, in Hebrew tradition, stands not only as positive identity of person but also it reveals the nature and character of the person. Thus the creator, self-existent and eternal God is inaccessible to human wisdom. He conveys not intimately or personally but through angels, prophets, dreams or visions, etc. These characteristics of God are peculiar to 'Elohim' tradition.
Jehovah is understood as a personal being on the basis of personal relationship such as 'God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.' He created man with His own hands, Gen 2:7. He walked in the garden of Eden, v 3:8, shut the door of the arc with His hands, v 7:16, smelt Noah's sacrifice, v 8:21, came down to see the tower, v 11:5-7, repented and grieved in heart for creating man, v 6:6, etc. These profound thoughts about God are found in Yahwite tradition. 'Yahweh,' as 'God of the fathers' was revealed to Moses for the first time in response to Moses' question. Genesis 32:24-29 gives a parallel, involving God's name in Jacob's struggle with a stranger. Angel asked Jacob's name and he said. The angel changed his name as 'Yisra-el' which means, 'May God rule.' Jacob inquired of angel's name but he did not reveal instead, blessed him. Jacob however understood who He was, verse 30. God was held in such awesomeness that one could not see God face to face without facing death. God disguised here as angel for this reason. Genesis 4:26 states that worship in the name of Yahweh began with Enos the son of Seth. Enos was born in 3769 BC or was 235 years younger to Adam. Moses received call in Mount Sinai in 1491 (dates according to Scofield Bible). So probably God's name as Yahweh was familiar to people at least 2250 years before Moses. Moses was aware of prevailing worship in the name of Jehovah from the time of Enos' This dialogue between 'Yahweh' and Moses regarding name of God might be affirmation of an oral tradition.
Later Jehovah revealed Himself in diverse manners and in part to prophets, Heb 1:1. They called Him, Mighty God, Lord of Hosts, etc and aggrandized the awesome nature of God. Jews were afraid, rather forbidden to pronounce the name, Yahweh. This approach enabled only to augment gap between man and God. Redemption of humanity, which was planned before the creations, was impossible because humanity could neither fully reconcile nor approach God in their fallen state. Acts of sacrifice prescribed in the Old Testament was imperfect and insufficient to attain complete propitiation. Human condition of sin and guilt overwhelmed the efficacy of Levite sacrifice for; it was impossible for a sinful to atone for other's sin.
So in the fullness of time God was pleased to take initiative and reveal Himself fully, finally and perfectly in the person of Jesus Christ. He, the incarnate Word, has all attributes of Jehovah. In and through Him God is known more intimately and personally. 'I AM' statements by Jesus Christ are the authentic explanations of who Jehovah was and is, which mystery was unrevealed till then. The 'I AM' statement found seven times symbolizes fullness. It is the sum of 3 for trinity that is complete Godhead and 4 for the Four Corners of earth that is fullness of creation, thus complete and perfect.
BREAD OF LIFE
The word, 'Bread' generally denotes the staple food, the basic necessity for sustenance of life. Thus the staple food of all animate beings, both plant and animal kingdom is bread and has special reference to human consumption. By claiming Jesus, as bread He implied that without Him one could not sustain life rather, He was indispensable for the human life. He is not simply bread but bread of life; the true bread, the living bread, the heavenly bread and thus expounded its eternal dimension. He is necessary not only for life in this world but also for life eternal. Luke's saying of eating bread in the kingdom of God indicates messianic banquet, 14:15.
Apostle John stands alone to present a very detailed discussion about the bread of life in chapter 6. Jesus is introduced as bread of life followed by the miracle of feeding the 5000. Bread of life is that which has life and which gives life. After feeding the 5000 Jesus and the disciples went to Capernaum and people hurriedly followed Him. Perceiving people's misguided enthusiasm; Jesus drew their attention to
more serious and meaningful aspects. Man is, as always now also, more concerned about physical and material well being rather than spiritual wellness. He worries more about how to eat better, how to make more wealth, how to enjoy more luxuries and how to enhance prestige among kindred, etc, all for the present life. Spiritual enrichment, eternal life and matters of faith are often sidelined or even neglected.
Jesus highlighted their inner longing for perishable food admonishing them labor not for perishable food but for food that gives eternal life, which He promised He would give them. People contented that Moses gave them Manna in the desert. He corrected their notion saying, His Father in heaven, not Moses, gave Manna in the wilderness. Manna was not capable of giving eternal life for, those who ate it, died. The talk of heavenly bread elated the people but they could not properly understand. People at this stage were no doubt spellbound and all of them craved for it, v 34. Jesus Christ further expounded that He was the real bread that came down from heaven. People got confused as to how one can eat His human flesh. Jesus asserted that His flesh is
real bread and His blood is real drink and unless one eats of His flesh and drinks of His blood one has no life. He would abide in him who eats His flesh and drink His blood; He will raise him on the Last day, v 41. People could not digest the idea of Jesus being the bread for they saw him only as the son of Mary. But Jesus persisted further more vehemently reiterating that unless one eats His flesh and drinks His blood one will not have eternal life. It was hard saying for the multitude and they, except the twelve, took it as blasphemy and in utter disbelief deserted Him, v 66. As it was then for the multitude, indeed it is difficult now also for natural man to understand it.
OLD TESTAMENT SHADOWS
Tree of life, Manna, Showbread, Passover Lamb, etc are shadows depicted in the Old Testament vividly describing Jesus Christ as bread of life.
(1) Tree of life was planted adjacent to the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. Man acquired from undesired source faculty of knowing good and evil as a result of eating of the tree of knowledge. Initial problem with man was not acquiring knowledge but the source and means of acquiring it. God cast out Adam and Eve from the garden lest they would pluck the fruit of the tree of life, eat of it and live forever. Cherubim and flaming sword were deployed around the tree of life to guard it. By offering His body as bread of life Jesus was offering eternal life that man so fondly cherished but could not attain due to arrogance. After Holy Baptism while giving the Holy Eucharist to the baptized we sing thus, 'Pheero dlo thaame Odom bpardaiso yawmono bphoomok ethseem bhaadooso,' which means, 'I place today in your mouth the fruit that which Adam could not taste in Paradise.' We sing while giving Holy Eucharist on the day of Passover feast, 'He (Jesus) is the fruit of the tree of life which Adam could not taste in the Garden of Eden.'
(2) Manna is described in Exodus 16:12-35. Israelites during their sojourn in the desert to the Promised Land of Canaan were fed with manna. Sojourn of Israelites typifies our life in this world, which is sojourn to heavenly abode to be with the Lord forever. Moses advised them to keep the vessel of Manna in the ark of covenant as memorial, Ex 16:33. It was Christ's shadow, Heb 9:4. Jesus Christ is hidden manna, Rev 2:17. We need nourishment of manna that is heavenly food to reach our heavenly abode. Jesus related Himself to manna and said a remarkable difference that Manna was for immediate physical sustenance of body and not for eternal life. Jesus Christ, the bread that has come from heaven shall assure eternal life.
(3) Showbread is also known as bread of presence, that is it symbolized God's presence in their midst, Ex 25:30. It was also called, 'Holy bread'. It was set forth in two rows of 6 each, Lev 24:5-9. Fresh bread is to be set on every Sabbath. Priests should eat the previous loaves. The bread was holy and lay-people were forbidden to eat it. David however is an exception. David and his men fled to Achish and on his way, being weary approached Ahimelech, the priest and requested for food. Ahimelech had nothing but the holly bread, which was replaced a little before with hot bread. Ahimelech expressed his willingness to offer it to them provided they abstained from women for three days. David confessed three days' abstinence and Ahimelech gave the showbread. David and his men ate it. Jesus quoted this incident to counter Pharisees' allegation that disciples broke the Sabbath by plucking the corn-ear and ate it, Mat 12:3-4. Mark adds, 'In the days of Abiathar,' 2:26 which might be memory error. Ahimelech was the priest who actually supplied the bread to David during his flight from Saul. Abiathar was Ahimelech's son who served as priest during the reign of David that was at a very later date. Bread was symbolic of food offering. It represented God's presence and thus forerunner of Christ.
(4) Passover Lamb and 'Lord's supper.' Passover festival was memorial of Israelites' deliverance from the Egyptian bondage. Passover was celebrated with unleavened bread. They should eat it standing and dressed up as if for a journey to remind the haste of Israelites to flee from Egypt. The blood of the lamb smeared on the doorposts and lintels saved the firstborns of Israelites from the angel who slew all the firstborns of Egyptians, Ex 12. Even so the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses our sins, saves us and enables us to pass from death to eternal life. John the Baptist said, 'Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,' Jn 1:29. Jesus is our Passover lamb, 1 Cor 5:7 and Rev 5:12. Passover festival was observed for a week. On the first day of Passover the lamb was ceremoniously killed and eaten in the evening of the same day. Lamb is the principal ingredient of Passover feast and its absence is conspicuous in the Lord's Supper. This indicates that Jesus substituted for the Passover lamb.
Jesus Christ instituted, putting an end to all animal sacrifice prescribed in the Law of Moses, the Holy Eucharist after formal observance of the Passover feast which is evident from Luke's explanation of two cups in verse 22:15 and 17. Jesus' promise that He will give food, which endures everlasting life for, God the Father has set His seal on Him, John 6:27 is thus fulfilled. The theme of the institution of Lord's Supper is found in all Gospels with variant details. Synoptic Gospels indicate that Jesus ate the Passover at the same time as other Jews did. But according to John, who was widely accepted during first century and more accurate, Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist a day before the Mosaic Passover and Jesus died on the Cross at the same time as the Passover lamb was slain in the temple for the whole nation of Israel.
Two types of bread 1, Leaven: Israelites used both leavened bread (Lah'mo) and 2, unleavened bread (Patheero). Leavened bread was more in common use. Leaven or fermentation symbolizes life and abundant growth. Jesus compared leaven to the kingdom of heaven that a woman hid it in three measures of meal, etc Mat 13:33. A bit of leaven due to its catalytic effect makes the whole dough soft and rise. It signifies the humble beginning and yet drastic progress of Gospel. Jesus here points that a small number of disciples would bring about immeasurable growth for gospel. Jesus used leaven as a positive symbol of active presence and power of God.
Leaven is compared to undesirable hypocritical false doctrines of Pharisees and Sadducees, Mat 16:6, Gal 5:9. It is an agent of corruption. Apostle says that scandalous behavior has also the effect of leaven and faithful ought to refrain from such habits. Israelites were advised to remove leftover leaven and prepare the Passover with fresh dough (unleavened) to signify that they do not carry any bitter and disdainful residue from Egypt. So even, St Paul advised to remove old leaven that was scandalous and scornful behavior and replace love instead, 1 Cor 5:6.
Using leavened bread for the Holy Eucharist is first and the oldest apostolic practice handed down to us. By no means, at least on the apostle's standpoint, Last Supper was under normal psychological circumstances, but was special in many ways. At the time of 'Last Supper' in the upper chamber of the house of St Mark and his mother Mary, Jesus turned unusually sentimental, imparted very important and most emotionally charged parting lessons to the apostles. Although all gospels invariably cover the incident St John alone gives detailed account such as washing the feet of the disciples, commandment of love, foretelling about Judas' betrayal, Peter's denial, his impending arrest, trial, sufferings, departing, agony and vicariate prayer in the garden of Gethsemene, etc. He said he would not taste fruit of vine until the day when they came together in His Father's Kingdom, Mat 26:29. Disciples were in utter dismay, exceedingly grief-stricken and unhappy as they heard all the unusual matters that shattered all their hopes, Mat 26:22. They were all these days anticipating a valorous Messiah who would deliver them from the Roman yoke. Apostle Peter kept a portion of the leaven from which they made Last Supper; probably he had an intuition, so as to mix it with the dough for the next supper to bring home memory of the Last Supper with the Lord. According to Chaldean-Syrian tradition, I do not repudiate credence; Jesus gave a portion of the dough to Apostle John with instruction to add it as leaven in the future preparations. This leaven has thus a sentimental value and apostles so passionately continued that tradition and we continue it until now. A priest receives leaven from his teacher (Malpono) or from a senior priest of the same discipline. The whole Christendom used only leavened bread for the Eucharist for ten centuries. So the leaven we use today, it is believed, has an unbroken continuity traceable right from apostles. Oriental Orthodox family kept up this unbroken tradition of using leavened bread freshly baked for every Holy Eucharist. Roman church departed from this noble tradition after 10th century. Armenian Orthodox Church is the only member in the Oriental family that does not use leaven and that too after 10th century. Whether or not they are yet Orthodox I consider it a deviation from orthodoxy.
(5) Melchisedec, the type of Christ, offered bread and wine: Bread and wine offering of Melchisedec is interpreted as the forerunner or shadow of New Testament Eucharist. Melchisedec is first seen in Genesis 14. When Abraham returned with booty after the expedition against four kings, Melchisedec greeted, blessed and offered him bread and wine. St. Paul says, he was the priest of the Most High God. The first question is, if the bread and wine offered to Abraham had any sacramental value? I think not. But at the same time without error it can be assumed that usual sacrificial elements of Melchisedec were bread and wine. For this reason the venerable fathers of the Church set apart the first Thooyobo Kramam of the Holy Qurbono in honor of Melchisedec, 'M'seeho d'kaabel kurboneh d'Melchisedec kumaro dakyo. Kaabel morio zlooz d'abdok v'haaso hawbo d'mare-eetho,' which means, 'Oh Christ who accepted the offering of holy high-priest Melchisedec forgive the trespasses of the church accepting your servant's prayer.' The prayer is not referring in particular to the offer made to Abraham but rather it emphasizes Melchisedec's sacrificial elements were since Bread and Wine, a deviation from the days' popular mundane practice of animal offering, was forerunner to present Holy Eucharist.
Next question is whether Melchisedec was higher than Abraham was? 'The lesser is blessed by the better,' Heb 7: 7. Firstly, Melchisedec was the King of Salem and Abraham was chosen friend of God. So this is a good example of mutual respect by two godly individuals. Secondly he was the priest of the Most High God. Priest is the one who stands in God's stead and pleads for people. Abraham definitely acknowledged the spiritual authority and superiority of Melchisedec by giving tithe. Melchisedec in turn accepted as deserving the tithe and blessed Abraham and thus evidently Melchisedec was higher than Abraham was by all means. However, the inference is that priesthood of Melchisedec is much older and higher than that of Levy who was the great grand son of Abraham. Jesus Christ was by descent from Judah not from Levy and so he cannot be a priest because Aaronite priesthood was confined only to Levy tribe. In other words, Jesus Christ's priesthood was according to the order of Melchisedec and totally unrelated to Levites and hence higher and older.
Lord's Prayer refers to bread of life. Jesus taught his disciples about the need to yearn for the bread of life. Lord's Prayer says, 'Hablan lahmo d'sunkonan yawmono,' which means, 'Give us this day our bread' (or bread that is needed). Some translations render, 'daily bread.' This, though not an error, is misleading because usually one thinks that it is about the food material that one needs for everyday sustenance. No doubt, our good Lord cares about our physical wellness and knows that food is necessary for us. But He cautioned not to worry too much about the food that would perish and admonished to labor for the food that would give eternal life. Thus there are two types of bread. Lord must have intended both physical and eternal when he said, 'Give us this day our bread' and yet most certainly He was more concerned about daily spiritual nourishment and eternal life and hence the word 'Lahmo' or living bread is very conspicuous and apt. Greek equivalent for 'daily' is 'epiousios.' It means something 'above the essence or super-substantial.' Thus it indicates not merely bread for sustenance of physical life but the bread that would assure eternal life in the Kingdom of God, which is Jesus Christ Himself.
It has many names. 'Breaking of bread' and 'The Lord's Supper' are the terms used for Eucharist in the Bible. Lord commanded to do it in His remembrance and so the apostles were very eager to do it as often as they could. In other words, one of the basic purposes of their assemblage was to 'break the bread.' Concept about 'bread of life' culminated in the establishment of Holy Eucharist. 'Eucharist' means thanksgiving. Mor Ignatius Noorono of Antioch first employed this term, then it appeared in 'Didache' (the advise of the twelve apostles to the Gentiles) and then it came to be widely used because Jesus gave thanks to God, the Father at the Last supper, Mat 26:27, 1 Cor 11:24. Certain congregational factions confuse it with Agape meal, which was held immediately before the 'breaking of bread,'1 Cor 11:20. Agape meal became extinct as corruption crept in as also due to practical reasons, in due course of time. Present 'Burksa' is symbolic reminiscence of agape in ancient times. Again, Agape was full-fledged meal and commonly shared without formal liturgy. Probably the name "Holy Communion" (Koinonia), widely used in western churches, is derived from Agape meal.
'Anaphora' is another name for Eucharist in Greek, which means 'offering.' New Testament Anaphora is the pinnacle culmination of the Levite offerings. Clement of Rome was the first Apostolic Father to designate the title, 'Offering'. Bread and wine we offer in the liturgy represents the fruit of our labor. In fact the faithful offer themselves wholeheartedly in purity to the will of God. Thus the priest's prayer during preparation (Tooyobo), 'Grand us in meaningful service, to offer ourselves to Thee a living and acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to thee' and become Thy clean and spotless sheep' is intensely personal, sublime and meaningful. In Syriac it is, 'Koorobo' derived from 'Kareb' that means to come near, touch, etc. God comes to humanity and humanity touches God in the Eucharist and hence Koorobo, is very apt. It is also called 'sacrifice', another name for offering. Sacrifice should not be construed as a repetition of 'the once and for all sacrifice' that Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross for the atonement of the sin of the whole world and of all ages but as partaking in reality the great redemption that Jesus Christ achieved for us. Mor Ignatius calls it, 'Medicine of immortality.' Mor Aphrem, the Syrian calls it, 'Touching fire and Holy Spirit.' St John Chrysostom says, 'This is the divine food of fraternity. We partake with the Lord when we partake in this divine food. Keeping away from this divine meal would tantamount to keeping away from the Lord.' Holy Eucharist is the great festivity and celebration where our Lord's birth, public ministry, passion, crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, Second Advent and banquet with Him in eternity are commemorated. It is imperishable food for the journey to the kingdom of heaven.
It is our central act of worship and sacrament of sacraments. It is the perfection of all other sacraments. St James, half-brother of our Lord and the first bishop of Jerusalem, was the first to conduct it and form a written liturgy in AD 37. Syrian Orthodox Church has a wealth of about 80 liturgies. All the liturgies are based on St James liturgy but nevertheless St James liturgy is the finest, the first and the most important of all.
Over the course of centuries, there arose in Christendom diametrically opposed views negating and diminishing value of Holy Qurbono, among various other things, whether or not the consecrated bread and Wine are truly body and blood of Jesus Christ. It is too voluminous and unnecessary to deal with various views about it in detail. But faithful ought to know major different views, which form the fundamental aspect of church and Christian-unity.
Roman and Orthodox Churches hold in common that the consecrated Bread and Wine are real body and blood of Jesus Christ and yet there is sharp difference. Romans believe what they call, 'Transubstantiation.' Physical and chemical properties of the elements effect material change from bread to flesh and wine to blood according to this theory. We believe real, mystical and invisible presence of Jesus Christ in the consecrated elements. The consecrated Eucharistic elements are
real flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, which is mystery but not by transubstantiation. This fact is evident in the prayer of invitation to Holy Spirit (Kroithod'rooho kaadeeso), 'Holy Spirit from the topmost heights of heaven takes wings and descends and broods and rest upon the Eucharist here present and hallows it.' The action of brooding and resting should be understood in the context of a mother hen brooding over its egg. The intimate contact of brooding transmits slowly; regularly and gradually the heat from the mother hen into the egg and as a result growth takes place in the egg. Similarly due to indwelling power of Holy Spirit upon the bread and wine they convert themselves as flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. Such change is invisible to our finite senses and yet what in the chalice is no more mere bread but the Holy body of Jesus Christ and what in the cup is no more mere wine but real blood of Jesus Christ. Reverence we show to them is the same that we show to the real person of Christ. When Jews doubted as to 'how we can eat His flesh and drink His blood' Jesus Christ reiterated that, 'My flesh is truly bread and my blood is truly drink.'
Medieval reformation championed by Luther brought about all modern schisms and Eucharist is no exception and this greatest tragedy torn apart the Christendom eversince. Luther however strongly believed that the Eucharist is real event. The elements do not undergo change but when it is given Christ comes simultaneously to the recipient. Zwingli taught that Jesus broke the bread as a sign of his imminent death. 'Lord's Supper was simply memorial of His death, pledge of allegiance to Savior and proclamation to salvation.' Church of England follows Zwingli's concept of Eucharist. Karlstadt thought that Jesus was pointing to Himself when He said, 'This is my Body...' He celebrated Mass in ordinary clothes, without consecration prayer using edited liturgy in tune with the suggestions of Wycliffe and to the utter disappointment to Luther. Calvin disagreed and taught the Lord's Supper was a real event having only the spiritual presence of Christ. He could not assimilate the idea of degrading the glorious body of Christ into earthly elements. He did not understand the mystery of incarnation of Logos into womb of an earthly being and lived a real life as one of us. Contrary to what Augustine said, earthly elements are not vile in themselves. Grebel, progenitor of adult/faith baptism, took a position that anyone who so wishes can break 'one bread' in remembrance of the Savior.
European reformation had its dastardly influence on the ancient and authentic Syrian Church in Malankara and it paid heavy toll. We have today offshoot of every denomination born in Europe and America out of extreme individualism and in utter defiance to the apostolic faith. 'Marthomaites' merits special mention. They have the same liturgy, including invocation to Holy Spirit as we have, but say that Eucharist is only remembrance. Innocent and unaware laity receives consecrated Eucharistic elements as real flesh and blood. Certain bishop admitted in Court that both concepts prevail in the church! They have infant baptism but do not believe in regeneration that takes place in baptism! Priests like 'achan' but not 'Father' title! Certain bishop admitted that prayer for the departed is biblical but taught against it in the church! How self-contradictions go together, God Knows!