Eucharist and Church

Although it is evident from the whole content of this chapter [1 Cor 11] that Paul is speaking here about the assembly to perform the Divine Eucharist in Corinth, he nevertheless describes the assembly as a “Church”: “when you assemble as a Church I hear that there are divisions among you” (v. 18). Reading this phrase of the Apostle Paul’s, the Christians of Corinth might be expected to have asked, “What exactly does the Apostle mean when he talks about “coming together as a Church”? Aren’t we a “Church” whenever we meet, and even when we don’t come together in the same place?” This question, which seems so natural to twentieth-century Christians, did not concern the Christians of the Apostle Paul’s time. Indeed, from the passage it can be concluded quite naturally that the term “Church” was not used in a theoretical sense but to describe an actual meeting; and again not to describe just any sort of meeting, but the one that Paul had in mind when he wrote the words quoted above – the assembly to perform the Divine Eucharist. Paul does not hesitate in the slightest to call this assembly “the Church of God”: to despise the eucharistic assembly is the despire the very “Church of God” (v. 22). And going on to identify Eucharist and Church in a manner which is quite astonishing, he talks about the institution by Christ of the divine Supper, linking his reference to the “Church of God” with the subject of the Eucharist by a simple explanatory “for,” as if it were one and the same thing: “For I received from the Lord what I also delievered to you” (v. 23), namely the celebration of the Eucharist. This identification of the eucharistic assembly with the Church allows Paul to use the expression “coming together in the same place” (epi to auto) as a term having at once ecclesiological and eucharistic content. “When you come together in one place (epi to auto) it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat” (v. 20), because, by the way you behave, “you despise the Church of God” (v. 22). “So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another . . . lest you come together to be condemned . . . ” (vv.33-34). Thus, in the thought of Paul and the Churches which read his Epistles, the terms “coming together” or “coming together in the same place” (epi to auto), “the Lord’s supper” (i.e. the Divine Eucharist) and “the Church” (ekklesia) or “the Church of God” mean the same thing.

–from Eucharist, Bishop, Church by John. D. Zizioulas

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