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Question 36.

Father Christopher, greetings.

Why is it that in the Divine Liturgy, the Orthodox Church uses leavened bread for Holy Communion. The Roman Catholics state that they use unleavened bread in their ‘Eucharist’ because Jesus used this type of bread at the Last Supper (as did the Jews of Moses's time during Pesar) as it was the only permitted form of bread during Passover. Why is it then that our Church uses leavened bread in the Eucharist?

Thank you



Answer to Question 36

Dear Evangelos


There are many reasons why the Orthodox Church uses leaven bread and not unleavened. The first is the accounts of the Mystical Supper in the New Testament.

The Last Supper was not a true Passover meal, but a meal in anticipation of the Passover. When our Lord was to be crucified the Jews were to celebrate the Passover on the Saturday which began on the Friday evening. The Lord celebrated the Mystical Supper before the Passover and so gave to his disciples leavened bread. This is testified by the Gospel of St. John which tells us that when Jesus was taken from Caiaphas the high priest, to Pilate the governor, the chief priests and elders did not enter the judgement hall lest they should be defiled and not be able to eat of the Passover. (John 18: 28) In chapter 19 verse 14 we read that as Christ was being condemned to death “It was the preparation of the Passover, and about the sixth hour (12 midday) and in verse 31 of the same chapter we read that the Jews besought Pilate to order the legs of those crucified to be broken because they didn’t want the bodies to remain upon the cross on the Sabbath day because that Sabbath day was an high day: in other words that Sabbath was the Passover. Thus the Passover had not yet started. But even if the Last Supper was a Passover meal with unleavened bread as some insist, it doesn’t mean that this Passover meal was the Mystical Supper. When reading the Gospels we must be very careful to read between the verses without thinking that there are mistakes and discrepancies. In Luke’s account of the meal the cup is mentioned twice. (Luke 22:17 + 20) During the Jewish festive meals more than one cup of wine was passed round and during the Passover meal itself there were four cups of wine. But none of the other Evangelists mention the traditions of the Passover meal so why does Luke mention the cup twice? It could be that the first mention was the cup that ended the Passover meal and then the Mystical Supper was offered beginning with the breaking of the leavened Bread followed by the Cup of the New Testament.

But the Orthodox Church uses leavened bread for other reasons other than the historical truth.

1) It was the ancient Apostolic custom.

2) The word Artos (the Greek for bread) is used in all the accounts of the Mystical Supper meaning the common leavened bread. If unleavened bread was used they would have said Azymos which is always used to specify that the bread is unleavened.

3) The Jews were ordered to eat unleavened bread because they were in a rush to leave Egypt and had no time to wait for the bread to rise. The bread was also called the bread of affliction reminding them of the affliction they suffered in the hands of the Egyptians, and the bread of bitterness because it was eaten with bitter herbs. We do not eat the unleavened bread of bitterness on Sundays.  Unleavened bread is connected with mourning, something totally inappropriate in connection with the Lord’s Day and totally inappropriate for the celebration of the Eucharist which is a joyous celebration. The Eucharist is about the Resurrection as much as the Crucifixion, which is why fasting is forbidden on Sundays and Liturgies are festive.

4) Scripture uses the word leaven in two ways. Christ warns us to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees. He refers to their hypocritical doctrines which like a small piece of leaven when kneaded into the dough becomes all leavened meaning that the Pharisees doctrines when accepted can infect the whole person and community. But Christ mentioned here that he is not referring to bread. (Matt. 16.6) He mentions elsewhere that the kingdom of Heaven is like unto leaven which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened. (Matt. 13.33) As an image of the Kingdom leavened bread is by far more appropriate to be used as the food of the Kingdom. Leavened bread is also called, “Living bread”. Unleavened bread is referred to as “dead.” When Christ refers to Himself as “the bread of Life,” “the Living Bread”, it is certainly a play on leavened bread.  Leaven is understood as symbolizing life - the living and risen body of Christ.


With love in Christ
Fr. Christopher