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Holy Thursday

The vig­il on the eve of Holy Thurs­day is ded­i­cat­ed exclu­sive­ly to the Passover Sup­per which Christ cel­e­brat­ed with his twelve apos­tles. The main theme of the day is the meal itself at which Christ com­mand­ed that the Passover of the New Covenant be eat­en in remem­brance of him­self, of his body bro­ken and his blood shed for the remis­sion of sins. In addi­tion, Judas’ betray­al and Christ’s wash­ing of his dis­ci­ples feet is also cen­tral to the litur­gi­cal com­mem­o­ra­tion of the day.

In cathe­dral church­es it is the cus­tom for the bish­op to re-enact the foot wash­ing in a spe­cial cer­e­mo­ny fol­low­ing the Divine Liturgy.

At the vig­il of Holy Thurs­day, the Gospel of St Luke about the Lord’s Sup­per is read. At the Divine Litur­gy the Gospel is a com­pos­ite of all the evan­ge­lists’ accounts of the same event. The hymns and the read­ings of the day also all refer to the same cen­tral mystery.

When Thy glo­ri­ous dis­ci­ples were enlight­ened at the wash­ing of their feet before the sup­per, then the impi­ous Judas was dark­ened by the dis­ease of avarice, and to the law­less judges he betrayed Thee, the Right­eous Judge. Behold, O lover of mon­ey, this man because of avarice hanged him­self. Flee from the insa­tiable desire which dared such things against the Mas­ter! O Lord who deals right­eous­ly with all, glo­ry to Thee (Tropar­i­on of Holy Thursday).

In the regions of the Mas­ter, at the Table of Immor­tal­i­ty, in the high place, with minds lift­ed up, come, O ye faith­ful, let us eat with delight. …(Ninth Ode of the Canon of Matins).

The Divine Litur­gy of Saint Basil is served on Holy Thurs­day in con­nec­tion with Ves­pers. The long gospel of the Last Sup­per is read fol­low­ing the read­ings from Exo­dus, Job, Isa­iah and the first let­ter of the Apos­tle Paul to the Corinthi­ans (1 Cor 11). The fol­low­ing hymn replaces the Cheru­bic Hymn of the offer­to­ry of the litur­gy, and serves as well as the Com­mu­nion and Post-Com­mu­nion Hymns.

Of Thy mys­ti­cal sup­per, O Son of God, accept me today a com­mu­ni­cant, for I will not speak of Thy mys­tery to thine ene­mies, nei­ther like Judas will I give Thee a kiss, but like the thief will I con­fess Thee: Remem­ber me, O Lord, in Thy kingdom.

The litur­gi­cal cel­e­bra­tion of the Lord’s Sup­per on Holy Thurs­day is not mere­ly the annu­al remem­brance of the insti­tu­tion of the sacra­ment of Holy Com­mu­nion. Indeed the very event of the Passover Meal itself was not mere­ly the last-minute action by the Lord to “insti­tute” the cen­tral sacra­ment of the Chris­t­ian Faith before his pas­sion and death. On the con­trary, the entire mis­sion of Christ, and indeed the very pur­pose for the cre­ation of the world in the first place, is so that God’s beloved crea­ture, made in his own divine image and like­ness, could be in the most inti­mate com­mu­nion with him for eter­ni­ty, sit­ting at table with him, eat­ing and drink­ing in his unend­ing kingdom.

Thus, Christ the Son of God speaks to his apos­tles at the sup­per, and to all men who hear his words and believe in him and the Father who sent him:

Fear not, lit­tle flock, it is Your Father’s good plea­sure to give you the king­dom (Lk 12:32).

You are those who have con­tin­ued with me in my tri­als; as my Father appoint­ed a King­dom for me, so do I appoint for you that you may eat and drink at my table in my King­dom. …(Lk 22:28–31).

In a real sense, there­fore, it is true to say that the body bro­ken and the blood spilled spo­ken of by Christ at his last sup­per with the dis­ci­ples was not mere­ly an antic­i­pa­tion and pre­view of what was yet to come; but that what was yet to come—the cross, the tomb, the res­ur­rec­tion on the third day, the ascen­sion into heaven—came to pass pre­cise­ly so that men could be blessed by God to be in holy com­mu­nion with him for­ev­er, eat­ing and drink­ing at the mys­ti­cal table of his king­dom of which there will be no end.

Thus the “Mys­ti­cal Sup­per of the Son of God” which is con­tin­u­al­ly cel­e­brat­ed in the Divine Litur­gy of the Chris­t­ian Church, is the very essence of what life in God’s King­dom will be for eternity.

Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the King­dom of God (Lk 14:15).

Blessed are those who are invit­ed to the Mar­riage Sup­per of the Lamb (Rev 19:9).