Thoughts from the Early Church

Commentary by Theophylact

For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.
(Jn: 6:55)

We have heard that unless we eat the flesh of the Son we shall not have life. We must have unwavering faith, then, when we partake of the sacred mysteries, and not inquire “How?”

Unspiritual people, that is, those led by a natural, human way of thinking, are not open to spiritual realities surpassing the natural order, and so lack understanding of the spiritual nourishment the Lord’s flesh affords.

Those who do not share in this flesh will not share in eternal life because they reject Jesus, the true life. What is consumed is the flesh not of a mere man but of God, and being one with the Godhead, it has power to deify.

This is real nourishment: its sustaining power does not last only for a time; it does not decompose like perishable food, but helps us to attain everlasting life.

Likewise the cup of the Lord’s blood is real drink, for it does not quench our thirst only for a time, but keeps those who drink it free from thirst for ever; as the Lord said to the Samaritan woman: “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give will never thirst again.”

Whoever receives the grace of the Holy Spirit by sharing in the divine mysteries will never suffer from spiritual hunger and thirst the way unbelievers do. 

“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood live in me, and I live in them. As I draw life from the living Father who sent me, so whoever eats me will draw life from me.” From these words we can begin to understand the mystery of communion.

Those who eat and drink the Lord’s flesh and blood live in the Lord and the Lord lives in them. A marvelous and inexplicable union occurs by which God is in us, and we are in God. Does this not fill you with awe as you listen?

It is not God alone that we eat, for he is intangible and incorporeal; he can be apprehended neither by our eyes nor by our teeth; nor, on the other hand, is it simply the flesh of a man, which would avail us nothing.

Rather, in a union defying explanation, God has made flesh one with himself, so that the flesh now has life-giving power. This is not because its nature is changed into the nature of God. Of course not!

A comparison may be made with iron put into fire. It remains iron but displays the energy of fire. So also the Lord’s flesh remains flesh, but it has life-giving power because it is the flesh of the Word of God.

And so Christ says: "As I draw life from the Father," or in other words, As I was born of the Father who is life, "so those who eat me will draw life from me," because they will be united to me and as it were transformed into me, who am possessed of life-giving power.

Commentary on John’s Gospel: PG 123, 1309-12

Theophylact (c. 1050-1109), theologian and language scholar, studied at Constantinople. He taught rhetoric and was tutor to the imperial heir presumptive: hence his treatise on the Education of Monarchs. In 1078 he became archbishop of Ochrida in Bulgarian territory. While diffusing Byzantine culture among the Slavs, he allowed the use of Slavonic texts. He wrote commentaries on several books of the Old Testament and all of the New except Revelation. He especially stressed practical morality, as did Chrysostom, his model.


**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson