Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk celebrates Vespers and the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great on Holy and Great Thursday.
Communications Service of the DECR, 21.04.2022. On 21st April 2022 on Holy Thursday, the day on which the Last Supper is commemorated, the chairman of the Department of External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate the metropolitan of Volokolamsk Hilarion celebrated vespers and the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great in the Moscow Church of Our Lady of the Joy of All-Afflicted on Bolshaya Ordynka Street.
Concelebrating with the bishop were the clergy of the church.
After the Litany of Fervent Supplication metropolitan Hilarion read aloud the prayer for cessation of hostilities in Ukraine.
At the end of the service the bishop delivered this sermon to the faithful:
“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit. On Holy and Great Thursday, the Holy Church recalls the Last Supper, the final farewell meal of the Lord Jesus Christ with his disciples at which the Saviour, having partaken of the lamb of the Passover, gave to his disciples bread with the words: “Take, eat: this is my body” (Mt 26.26). Then Christ gave to his disciples a cup of wine and said: “Drink of this all of you: this is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Mt 26. 27-28).
“Do this in remembrance of me” the Son of God commanded his disciples. After the Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose again, the disciples began to gather every Sunday to recollect his life, his death, his resurrection and in remembrance of him they again and again repeated the same Last Supper which Christ himself accomplished and the participants of which were his apostles.
Testimony has come down to us of how the Last Suppers were celebrated in the apostolic era. We know this fr om the book of Acts and fr om the epistles of Saint Paul. Acts tells us how Saint Paul once gathered the church community together and spent the whole night in conversation. As morning approached, Christ’s disciples broke bread and the Divine Eucharist was celebrated. Paul’s conversation was so long and evidently so tiring that a young man fell asleep as he sat by the window and fell out of it. And the apostle had to go down to the young man, resurrect him and return him back to the community.
Saint Paul, addressing the Christians, in one of his letters states that the same order is to be observed in the evenings and one does not come to satisfy one’s belly (I am conveying the ideas of Saint Paul in my own words) but to taste of the bread of heaven.
Originally, the Last Supper was celebrated as a common meal. The disciples gathered, as a rule, at nighttime. Why at nighttime? Because it was the time when they were free of daytime labours. Moreover, it was possible at nighttime to hide fr om the ubiquitous persecutors of the Christian faith. The disciples would gather, eat together, sing psalms together and tell stories fr om the life of the Lord Jesus Christ, retelling his teachings and parables. At this time there was no written text. The written text of the Gospels appeared only later; at the beginning all of this was circulated only in the oral tradition. Then the one who was senior at the meal would break bread in remembrance of the Lord Jesus Christ and would offer a cup of wine to all those gathered with a prayer of thanksgiving.
Gradually Christ’s Church expanded and that which at first was a meal then turned into worship. The Church began to distinguish between usual bread and heavenly bread. By the second century we can read fr om the works of the Apostolic Fathers how the Last Supper was celebrated, and by this time it already was in the form of worship which was incompatible with a meal. People would visit this worship in order to be communicants of the holy mysteries of Christ and listen to the New Testament Scriptures, which by that time had already been written down on papyrus and circulated throughout the church communities in the form of scrolls and codices. The chief celebrants of these communities recounted stories from the Gospels so that people could learn about the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thus the Church has lived for more than two-thousand years. And not only every Sunday, but also on weekdays the Divine Liturgy is celebrated in church and the faithful are invited by the Lord Jesus Christ to his Last Supper. The reason for this is that with the institution of the mystery of the Holy Eucharist the Church determined that the celebrant of the Eucharist is not the bishop or the priest, or any earthly person, but always and in all instances its Celebrant is the Lord Jesus Christ. And it is not dependent on how solemnly or beautifully the service is performed, whether in a majestic cathedral wh ere thousands of people come together, wh ere the choir sings beautifully, wh ere bishops and priests gather, or in a modest rural village church wh ere there is no liturgical pomp, wh ere the priest serves with only a handful of parishioners present and a couple of elderly women sing in the choir. The Celebrant of the Eucharist is always the Lord Jesus Christ.
Every time the Eucharist is celebrated, we hear Christ himself who says to us: “Take, eat: this is my body which is broken for you” (1 Cor 11.23) and “Drink of this all of you: this is my blood of the New Testament which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Mt 26.27-28). The Lord invites us to be participants of his Last Supper, calls us to be united with him spiritually and bodily through the mystery of the body and blood of Christ. For the Church believes that the bread and wine in the Eucharist is not simply bread and wine which the faithful partake of in remembrance of the Lord Jesus Christ, but that this bread, which at the prayer of the priest and the church community, as a result of the power of the Holy Spirit which has descended upon it, becomes the body of Christ; and that the chalice of wine which at the prayer of the priest and the church community, as a result of the descent upon it of the Holy Spirit, becomes the blood of Christ. It is through this mystery that we are united with God spiritually and bodily. And it is the Divine Liturgy which grants to us this opportunity to be united with God.
But the Liturgy of Great and Holy Thursday has a special character, for on this day we recall how the Lord instituted the Holy Eucharist. We glorify the Lord for the fact that he has given to us that which is the greatest thing to give, that is, himself. And we partake of the Holy Mysteries of Christ with faith and hope in his divine mercy.
Yet let us recall too the words which we heard today from the epistle of Saint Paul to the Corinthians addressed to the early Christian community. These words also have meaning for each one of us: “For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 11. 29-30). Let us not neglect this warning of the holy apostle Paul.
Let us prepare ourselves to commune of the Holy Mysteries of Christ by cleansing our conscience through the sacrament of confession, by cleansing ourselves through prayer, repentance and abstention, and, if possible, through the fasts which the Church has prescribed for us. And with reverence and hope, and by inwardly preparing ourselves, spiritually and bodily, let us approach this great sacrament in which we taste of the Lord Jesus Christ himself. Amen.
I congratulate you all on Great and Holy Thursday. May the Lord preserve you all.”