Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
Rev Fr KK John
Did Jesus eat His own flesh?
My answer is; no.
Recently a discussion came up on the above question. The relevant
portion that made the questioner think the celebrant chanted his own
words, quite inappropriately according to him, in the liturgy is the
establishment words, cardinal to the Holy Eucharist, that is, ‘Jesus
blessed, gave thanks, broke, ate and gave to disciples saying, “This is
All liturgies have four essential words in common,
All four words are independent transitive
verbs in past tense expressing completed actions. In other words, action of each
verb is perfect and complete. The action of the first verb does not extend to
nor combines with the other. In the case of impugned statement in the Anaphora
of 12 Apostles, additional verb, “Ate” has become apple of discord.
(2) gave thanks or blessed,
(3) broke and
If taken in
the order of sequence no confusion would arise; first Jesus took bread (Lahmo),
then he gave thanks, then he broke it and then he ate some of it and then he
gave remaining portion to disciples. It was bread without change when he broke
and ate. Then the finite action took place that is, “He gave” to disciples
saying, “This is my body.” It was those words that changed the bread into His
The first Holy Eucharist or Lord’s Supper was full meal for the hungry, not a
symbolism as we celebrate now. This, everyone ate to his full capacity as was
the custom of Passover meal. Apostles continued the Holy Eucharist the same
manner as our Lord conducted it. Over the course of history Holy Eucharist was
denigrated to mere symbolism of what took place when Lord instituted it. Church
has its own reason for doing so and we do not find blame for it. Church
inculcated various prayers and litanies giving a shape and form and hue of
worship service. And yet we believe that the Holy Eucharist we celebrate and
participate is immutably the same Lord’s Supper and the real conductor is Lord
Himself; the priest standing in His stead by His authority.
I would clarify that St James Liturgy is the oldest and model for all
liturgies. According to tradition St James first conducted Holy Anaphora after
resurrection according to what he had learned straight from Jesus Christ.
However the Greek word ‘Anaphora’ is a later origin. Biblical term in the days
of Apostles was “Breaking of Bread, “Lord’s Supper,” etc as seen in Book of
Acts. Some people name it, “Last Supper.” St Ignatius Noorono of Antioch was the
first prelate to employ the word, “Eucharist”, which means, thanksgiving, to
Anaphora. In Syriac we call it, “Kurobo.” Kurbono or Kurbana as we call it; is
Arabic word meaning, oblation or offering.
It was God’s words that created, Gen 1:3.
It was Jesus words that
sanctified the disciples, John 15:3.
It was the words of Jesus that the evil
spirits left and people got healed.
So when Jesus said, “This is my body,”
ordinary bread instantly became His body and that happened after he ate. That is
why there is no confusion of translation and Jesus did not eat His own body.
St Peter and St John conducted Holy
Anaphora immediately after resurrection with the same words and format as of St
James. Without doubt all apostles accepted the Anaphora of St James. In due
course of time Anaphora of St James itself underwent many changes. Many
illustrious fathers of the Church wrote many liturgies.
The growth of liturgical
tradition spans for a period of 13 centuries. I mean, there was no considerable
theological expansion during the last 7 centuries. All the liturgies are in the
same format as of St James. Changes are only in words and length. Fundamental
principles of Anaphora or its purpose has never changed. Syrian Orthodox is the
only church with such rich heritage of more than 70 liturgies. In Malankara
until recently we had Taksa with 24 liturgies; then it was reduced to 13 and now
we have 7 short liturgies to save time for we are now too busy with other
matters. Some priests prefer to the same liturgy always. For this reason most of
the faithful are unaware of the existence of many liturgies and differences
therein, which has caused confusion to the questioner.
Church does not stipulate St James liturgy for all Sundays as some would
mistakenly say. Church insists on St James Liturgy on Feast days, Koodos Eetho,
Church Consecration, ordination and when a priest conducts Holy Eucharist for
the first time, and on a new altar, etc. The original St James liturgy was long
one. Greorious Bar Ebraya edited and shortened it in the 13th Century and this
is what we now use in both Middle East and Malankara. To further shorten the
length of service priests use shorter liturgies of St K’sosthos, St Dionesius,
etc and recite only the ‘establishment words’ from St James liturgy.
Establishment words, like most prayers, are not same in all liturgies. A few
St James’ Anaphora, “When He, the sinless one, of His own Will, prepared to
accept death for us sinners, took bread into His Holy hands +++ when He had
given thanks, He blessed, consecrated, broke and gave it to His holy apostles
saying, Take, eat of it, this is my body, which is broken for you and for many
and is given for the remission of sins and for life eternal.
Likewise also, He took the Cup +++ and when He had given thanks, He blessed
consecrated and gave to his holy apostles saying, Take, drink of it, all of you.
This is my blood, which is shed for you and for many and is given for the
remission of sins and for life eternal.”
St Dionesius Bar Sleebi: “When our Lord prepared for the redeeming Passion,
took bread, blessed, consecrated, broke and named it His Holy Body to those who
partake in them.
Likewise also, the cup which was mixed from wine and water blessed, sanctified,
perfected as His precious blood for the eternal life of those who partake of
Anaphora of 12 Apostles: “He who, when immutably becoming man, came to the
Cross and before His life giving passion, took bread in His holy hands. He
blessed ++ and sanctified + and broke and ate; and gave it to His disciples,
saying: Take, eat of it; this is My Body which is broken for you and for many
and is given for the remission of sins and for life everlasting.
Likewise, after they had eaten supper, He took the cup blended with wine and
water. He blessed + + and sanctified + and when He had tasted it, gave it to His
disciples, saying: Take drink of it, all of you. This is My Blood of the new
Covenant which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins and for
I have not come across nor read all the seventy plus anaphora. The words,
‘Ate/drunk’ is peculiar to the Anaphora of 12 Apostles. All authors surely
mention the occasion of instituting Anaphora that it was in the eve/night of His
passion. St Peter gives more clarity saying; it was instituted at the time of
The Syriac word “Lahmo” is used in all taksas for bread. English rendering is
Bread and Malayalam rendering is Appam. Anaphora of St Isaac says, ‘common
bread’ (sadharana appam). Anaphora of St Mathai Royo is the closest rendering
that says, “Leavened bread which manifested the mystery of salvation”
(Rekshaamarmam adangiyirikkunna pulippulla appam). Bread in English and ‘Appam’
in Malayalam do not convey accurate meaning of Lahmo. In Syriac there are two
words namely; Lahmo meaning leavened (fermented) bread and Patheero meaning
unleavened bread. Passover was also the feast of unleavened bread. The word
Lahmo is especially significant because of the Jewish Passover background. Jesus
Christ first performed all the rites of Passover meal before He instituted the
Holy Anaphora using leavened bread. Some scholars say that Jesus did not conduct
all the formalities of Passover meals. I have heard some old priests who use
only Syriac text and instantly translate saying clearly that Jesus instituted
Holy Anaphora after the Passover meal (“Moosaika pessahaye than
nivarthichittu”). Again, St Mathai Royo specifies that in the Last Supper Lord
‘displaced the old feast of unleavened bread. The emphasis is that the Last
Supper was a culmination of Old and New; not altogether departing from the
tradition and yet fully new one. Thus in short the church allows different words
with the basic understanding that everyone knows what it actually means.
It is also relevant to point out that certain very senior and scholarly priests
taught me that it is necessary to say the establishment words (Barekh u Kaadees)
because Jesus Christ used it, in all Anaphora. Probably we are the only church
continuing this tradition. But there is Anaphora without those words or using
derivatives. For example: St K’sosthos says on bread, “Esbaraakh Vesakzee” and
on wine “Veskadaas.” Recently I have participated in a Holy Eucharist where the
celebrant, a senior priest and an acclaimed scholar omitted the establishment
words, (Barekh u Kadees). However my limited knowledge declines to subscribe to
that position. Some Anaphora does not say Jesus gave thanks. The differences are
thus vast and innumerable. The Syrian tradition allowed such differences for the
sake of variety and beauty of worship unlike in RC tradition which does not
allow differences in establishment words.
The bishop/priest has authority to apply words, without changing the basics,
importing messages relevant to contemporary situations for there are many words
irrelevant to present context. I know at least a very few bishops/priests
inserting their own wordings in Anaphora prayers and that is perfectly ok.
Gospel accounts bear witness to such variations in presentation according to the
knowledge and purpose of authors. I will deal some such differences below in
relation to Passover. It would be too long to write from all Taksas and I hope
this would suffice.
Passover: Passover is English rendering of Hebrew Pesah. Passover reminisces in
our minds twofold action of Yahweh as He passed through the midst of Egyptians
and Israel in that fateful night. First, it was a judgment on evil. Merciful and
long suffering Yahweh gave nine chances to Pharaoh to let Israelites go out of
Egypt. Each time instead of acknowledging the Omnipotent God, heeding to verbal
warning and by pestilences Pharaoh hardened his heart; made the people toil
harder and rebuked Moses the chosen one. When Moses told Pharaoh ‘let my people
go and worship our God,’ Pharaoh challenged the living God. Pharaoh’s denials
were challenging Yahweh’s omnipotence due to pride. Yahweh was thus compelled to
pronounce final judgment on Pharaoh which ended in his ultimate ruin. Second, it
was the beginning of victory and deliverance to the chosen ones over evil. The
story of deliverance of Israel from the tyranny of Pharaoh has many semblances
to Kurushetra (Kaurava-Pandava) war in Mahabharatham in which Lord Krishna took
side of the less fortunate and the just Pandavas. Yahweh clearly took the side
of Israelites, the weaker and the oppressed. Yahweh Himself took initiative and
guided each step until they reach final destination. God gave sufficient warning
through Moses to Pharaoh before each plague. Pharaoh was a captive of
superstitious belief in the powers of his gods. Each plague was to demonstrate
that there is only One God Yahweh and it is necessary to obey His commands, for
He is God all Universe. The tenth plague of killing the firstborn human beings
and the cattle resulted from the failure of all possible ways of
reconciliations. Pharaoh’s defiance is typical of human reliance in his own
distorted notion of authority and might and failure to acknowledge God. When all
other lesser methods failed God took the extreme step of ruining the whole
infrastructure of Pharaoh killing all the first-born males of Egypt; from king
to cattle. Looking at and from different aspects of the unparalleled history of
exodus, it was truly a great jihad. Jihad is war between sons of light and sons
of darkness, (Dead Sea Scrolls for detail).
Was it necessary to kill the firstborns of cattle, I often wondered? Egyptians
worshipped many beasts as gods. That made them to rebel against the Only God. By
killing the firstborns of the beast Yahweh taught them that all firstborns
whether of beast or of man belong to Him. There is no god other than Yahweh who
can save. So it was necessary; necessary also to compound the severity of the
judgment upon the Egyptians. The lesson here is when the leader fails the whole
followers suffer and when man sins not only he but the whole creations suffer.
Israelites and Egyptian lived together; they were not segregated into separate
groups. God devised a perfect plan to identify and separate the Israel from
Egyptians. Blood of the lamb became medium of identification. God has mysterious
ways to save whom He chooses, Ps 23:5.
Farming and sheep tending were the oldest occupations of humanity and the only
means of livelihood for the ancients. They depended upon nature and divine
powers for success. Feast of unleavened bread was the feast of farmers. Pesah
was the feast of shepherds. Both existed before exodus as means of propitiation
to deity to prosper the farming and shepherding industry. Moses combined the two
ancient traditions together giving new shape and meaning to them. Moses made it
an everlasting memory of the great exodus. It became an act of thanksgiving to
the mighty deeds that Yahweh did for their deliverance. It also pointed to the
future eternal deliverance of humanity from the shackles of Satan and the final
victory of good over evil.
Jewish Passover was introduced as preparation for the great exodus. Details are
written in chapter 12 of Exodus. It was conducted within the confines of homes.
The chief element was one year old male lamb without blemishes. From this time
on, Abib (Nisan from the time of Babel Diaspora) was reckoned as the beginning
of the calendar year. Moses instructed them to choose the lamb on the 10th day
and keep it to 14th to verify if the lamb was without blemish. On the evening of
14th, from 3 to 5 in the afternoon, they had to kill (sacrifice) the lamb. The
sacrifice indicated that life is offered to God. Blood was considered life and
that was made symbol of saving, hope and security. The head of the household
should smear blood of the lamb on the doorposts and lintel of the door using a
bunch of hyssop. All members needed to be shut inside the house. No one was to
go outside during that night. The sprinkling of blood was a sign to the angel to
pass and to indicate that the atonement had been made. They had to roast the
lamb in fire without breaking any of its bones. Sacrifice was complete only with
eating the flesh of the victim. The wholeness represents the unity of Israel.
Boiling in water or any other means as was the system until then was not
permitted to avoid dismemberment and hasten the exodus. Left over if any had to
be burnt. This was by all means environmentally and hygienically safe manner of
disposing wastes. Other edible items were unleavened bread, unleavened, because
there was no time to wait for fermentation again stressing the need to hurry up
exodus and bitter herb. Leaven was forbidden from the sacrificial meals to
remind how hurriedly their forefathers left Egypt.
Protestant scholars explain that leaven was forbidden because fermentation was
symbolic of corruption and decay. Of course Jesus told his disciples to beware
of the leaven of Pharisees and Sadducees, Mat16:6. Jesus was referring to the
defiled doctrines. In the same sense St Paul advised Corinthians to remove the
old leaven which was malice and wickedness, because Christ the Passover lamb is
sacrificed on the cross, 1C5:6. Jesus implied leaven to good attitude also when
He told about the furtherance of the Kingdom of God, Mat 13:33. Thus leaven can
be attributed to both good and bad aspects. When it is often compared to
uncleanness, moral decline and sin it also can be attributed to life and fast
growth or multiplication of faithful. Leaven softens the bread and increases the
palatability and hence it is good. Leavened bread was indispensable item of
their daily staple food. Jewish custom required to remove leaven as the first
step of preparation of Passover feast simply to remind them that with such haste
their forefathers left from Egypt. They were to eat hurriedly standing, with
girded loins, wearing sandals and holding staff. Jews wore long tunics flowing
down to the feet. Girding it to raise the lower level of tunic was necessary to
enable them to walk briskly. These are further indications of the haste invoked.
Jesus advised the seventy, “Greet no one on the road, Luke 9:4. This was not an
indication of discourtesy but the haste involved in preaching the gospel.
Apostles advised the disciples to gird their loins so that they be ready for
holy living in obedience at all times, 1P 1:13. Bitter herb was to remind their
bitter experiences of bondage in Egypt.
That night God Yahweh executed judgment on Egypt. Israelites plundered
Egyptians and started pilgrimage to the Promised Land next morning. Western
scholars interpret that the exodus began on the 15th day of Nissan because their
calendar day begins at midnight. This is not correct. The exodus began on the
14th day itself because Jews reckoned the day from evening to evening so did
Christians in early days. When the angel of death passed through the midst of
Egypt and all the firstborns were killed there was great panic and cry. Pharaoh
woke up at night, immediately summoned Moses and Aaron and asked them to leave
without any delay, v31. Not only Pharaoh but the people of Egypt also pressed
them leave quickly. So the Israelites left in such hurry that they carried the
dough, not waiting to bake bread. There was also fear that Pharaoh might change
his mind again if they delayed. He changed his mind again as we see later.
Numbers 33:3 states that the exodus started on the 15th day. This contradicts
the exodus details in Ex 12:31-33 and nullifies the hurry. Some scholars so
believe; but I think exodus details are more accurate.
The Passover and feast of unleavened bread celebration continued for seven
days. The first day and the seventh day they had to gather together before the
Tabernacle. Those who did not remove leaven were to be excommunicated. Moses
charged Elders to observe Passover feast and teach the meaning of this feast to
the children even after reaching the land of promise.
Later changes: Passover was at first domestic function. Later it assumed
religious ritual status. The venue of sacrificing lamb was transferred to the
Tabernacle sanctuary, so even the banquet. Sacrificial victim could either be
lamb or bullock. Unleavened bread was named as ‘bread of affliction,’ Dt 16:1-5.
Passover performance was compulsory for all Israelites. Cleanliness became
mandatory. Those who become unclean by touching corpse had to perform a
secondary Passover in the next month, Num 9:10-13. King Josiah conducted
Passover in grand manner with certain innovations. He arranged the Levite and
Priests according to their ancestral order. Priests sprinkled the blood of the
victim on the altar, 2K 23:21-23, 2Chr c35. Needless to say, Passover sacrifice
and feast were concluded with singing of songs, Psalms 113 to 118.
By the time of Jesus ministry Passover feast was conducted in more advanced
manner but the basic requirements never changed. Sacrificial lamb was chosen and
set apart on the 10th day of Nisan, one for each family. 10 people were minimum
needed. Neighbors or friends could be invited to complete number 10 (example
Jesus with His disciples). The victim was killed on the 14th day in the temple.
People assembled in the front (west) porch. Priests stood in two rows. Each in
one row held a golden basin and each one in other row held silver basin. Blood
collected from the expiring victim was passed on to each hand and the priest at
the end of the line sprinkled the blood on the altar, all the while singling
Psalms, (Douglas dictionary).
The slaughtered lamb was then carried home. Passover meal needed be prepared,
served and eaten within the city limits. On the day of Preparation, 13th day,
Leaven was ceremoniously searched with the aid of lighted candle and removed
from the house chanting a prayer of sanctification. Passover meal was served at
night. Passover meal began with prayer of thanks and ended with Psalms. There
were four vessels of wine, representing four promises found in Exodus 6:6-7
1, “I will bring you out from the burdens of Egypt;
2, I will deliver you from the bondage;
3, I will redeem you with outstretched arm and great acts of judgment,
4, I will take you for my people and I will be your God, (Barclay).
This was of later origin. The first is the “cup of Kiddush=sanctification.” This
starts with a lengthy benediction. Then they ceremoniously washed their hands
and ate vegetables dipped in vinegar, salt and water (appetizer). The youngest
member then asked four question namely, why only unleavened bread, why bitter
herb, why food is dipped twice, why father or Rabbi was given special comfort
seats, etc. The head of the family or Rabbi then replied the whole concept, the
history, the meaning, etc; mostly a prepared recitation. Second cup is passed at
the end of recitation, blessed and tasted. Before breaking the bread there was
another ceremony, that is, Prayer of benediction before the bitter herb is
dipped in a mixture of crushed fruits and wine. The bitter and the sweet are
mingled to denote that freedom and spiritual progress can be achieved only
through suffering and sacrifice. Then the head of the house broke and
distributed the unleavened bread to all participants; the bitter herb to remind
afflictions of slavery, the mixture of different fruits, which also was a much
later addition, to remind the toil of making bricks in Egypt. The bowl of salt
and water reminded the tears in Egypt. After this they eat the lamb-meat. The
third cup was of thanksgiving and grace after meals. The fourth cup of wine is
for the grateful acknowledgement benefits that God provided. This also
symbolizes that the angel of death passed off. There will be songs praising God
and Psalms throughout. Some scholars say that Jesus blessed and gave the third
cup to the disciples and the fourth cup he said he will not taste until
glorification, Mat 26:29.
Jesus told his disciples to prepare Passover meals and they did. It was surely
according to the Law of Moses. Disciples did not know at that point if their
master had any other thought. So He did every formality that the head of the
house ought to do in relation to the feast. For he said, ‘I have come not to
remove the law but to fulfill the law.’ None of the gospels clarify beyond doubt
if he completed all the formalities of the law of feast. But surely there are a
1, Luke says, “When the hour came Jesus sat down and the twelve
apostles with Him,” 22:14. Here, the word “hour” I believe, Luke meant after the
time stipulated to eat standing. Sitting in the Passover meal, though certain
rabbinical tradition allowed reclining of Rabbis or head of the household, is a
clear deviation from the ancient custom. The custom required that they eat the
Passover meals standing, loins girded, wearing sandals and holding staff.
2,John clearly says, that Jesus was hanged and died on the cross at the same time
when the Passover lamb was slain, according to some scholars. This means that
the Last Supper, as John says, was conducted in the eve before. Mark says Jesus
died the day before Sabbath, Mk 15:42. Luke says, “That day was the preparation
and the Sabbath drew near,” Lk 23:54. Mathew says, “Pharisees and chief priests
gathered together to Pilate on the next day, which followed the day of
preparation,” 27:62. This means that the death and burial was on the day of
preparation and next day was Sabbath. In other words the Passover meal was eaten
at the end of the day of preparation. Thus all the gospels agree, not
contradicting each other as some would imagine, the death of Jesus took place on
Friday the time when the Passover Lamb was slain and before the Jews ate it.
Passover of the Ancient by all means pointed towards the full and final
redemption of humanity through the atonement of Christ on the Cross.
1, The Passover lamb was to be without blemish. Sinful man cannot redeem another
sinful; he can only cause more defilement because sin multiplies sin. For this
reason Son of God came into the world without sin. Jesus Christ was free from
the natural defilement which everyone inherits at birth. Speaking of the birth
of Jesus Christ the apostle says, “Born of a woman.” In other words Apostle was
clearly telling that Mary conceived without human involvement. The woman, Mary
by her own admission, did not know nor had any human contact that caused the
bearing and birth of Christ.
2, the lamb was to be roasted whole without
breaking any of its bone. John attests that since Jesus was dead when soldiers
inspected they did not break his bones.
3, The Passover lamb should be of one
(12 to 24 months in some cases) year of age. This is the age of prime youth of
the lamb. Jesus Christ was crucified in his prime youth, at the age off 33.
4, There are two interesting elements in the Passover ceremonies that
developed in the course of its evolution.
1, addition of fifth cup of wine called, “Cup of Elijah.” According to Talmud the Jews had a Messianic hope. They
believed, when the exploitation of man by man ends Elijah will come and fully
and finally redeem them. This would take place during Passover because the
original Passover is the memory of their redemption from Egypt. For this reason
they would never drink that cup for it was reserved for Messiah.
2, intervening days were not compulsory holidays. Fifth day of the Feast of Tabernacle was
called, Hoshanah Rabba. They ceremonially blessed four plants on that day.
Worshippers carried willow branches and chanted, Hoshana. This also pointed
towards the Messianic expectation of the Jews.
Ancient Middle East cultures practiced a cult of sacrificing firstborn. Popular
belief was that all firstborn sons and first produce belonged to God. Sacrifice
brought prosperity to family; example Abraham sacrificing his only son. Passover
was initially a shepherd feast of sacrificing firstborn. Later instead of
firstborn humans they sacrificed a lamb and redeemed human son. Yahweh revealed
to Moses His plan of redeeming the lost humanity through His Firstborn (of all
creations) Son, Heb 1:6. So Moses set Passover Feast not only as a memory of the
redemption from Egyptian bondage but also as precursor to the sacrifice of the
Lamb of God upon the cross of Calvary. Moses appeared to Jesus and discussed
modalities of this great plan at Mount Tabor.
Is it not interesting that the whole acts of redemption took place during the
traditional Passover days that the Jews fondly cherished for centuries?
Triumphant entry into Jerusalem temple was on 10th day of Nisan. 14th evening He
ate Last Supper with disciples, established the Holy Eucharist, got arrested,
tried and they crucified Him at the sixth hour of the same day. This was the day
and time Jews slain the Passover lamb for the whole nation. These are pointers
that Jesus was the Sacrificial Lamb. We are saved by His atoning Blood.
An Overview of the Holy
Holy Week is the pinnacle of Great Lent. At no other time of the year will
religious thought and practice be at such a high peak as during
this sacred week, and no other family feast or festival should
out rank that of Easter.
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