Eating Food that has Blood in it According to Canon Law

Blood Sausage

Q: I wonder if it is ok to eat food that has blood in it? What about Acts 15 where the Apostles forbid it and what about blood transfusions?

A: Actually – and this is not well-known – the Orthodox position is that the Apostolic Council is still binding, and this includes the prohibition on eating blood. Two canonical sources which uphold the restriction of Acts 15 are:

Canon LXIII (63) of the Apostles:

If any bishop, or presbyter or deacon or anyone else on the sacerdotal list at all, eat meat in the blood of its soul, or that has been killed by a wild beast, or that has died a natural death, let him be deposed. For the Law has forbidden this. But if any layman do the same let him be excommunicated.

Canon LXVII (67) from the Quinesext Council:

Divine Scripture has commanded us to ‘abstain from blood, and strangled flesh and fornication’ (Gen 9:3-4, Lev 17 & 18:3, Acts 15: 28-29). We therefore suitably penance those who on account of their dainty stomach eat the blood of any animal after they have rendered it eatable by some art. If therefore anyone from now on should attempt to eat the blood of any animal in any way whatsoever, if he be a clergyman, let him be deposed from office; but if he be a layman let him be excommunicated.

The great Orthodox canonists (Zonaras, Balsamon) have reaffirmed the applicability of these canons.

This prohibition on eating blood has however never been understood as a strict prohibition on the use of blood transfusions in case of medical emergency. It is notable that Orthodox Jews and Muslims who are very strict on eating blood do not also extend the restriction to indispensable medical use. However, it can safely be said that Orthodox Christians should reject the greed and corruption sometimes exposed by the media in relation to the blood transfusion (and organ donation) business. Recent changes, allowing a person to store his own blood or to receive the blood of a compatible relative or friend, have been helpful in curbing the problem of corruption in the blood supply industry.




To Whom Was the Blood of Christ Offered according to St. Gregory the Theologian

By St. Gregory the Theologian

More on Atonement – an Excerpt from “On Holy Pascha”, Homily 45

Now we are to examine another fact and dogma, neglected by most people, but in my judgment well worth inquiring into. To whom was that Blood offered that was shed for us, and why was it shed?

I mean the precious and renowned Blood of our God and High Priest and Sacrifice. We were detained in bondage by the Evil One, sold under sin, and receiving pleasure in exchange for wickedness. Now, since a ransom belongs only to him who holds in bondage, I ask to whom was this offered, and for what cause?

If to the Evil One, fie upon the outrage! If the robber receives ransom, not only from God, but a ransom which consists of God Himself, and has such an illustrious payment for his tyranny, a payment for whose sake it would have been right for him to have left us alone altogether.

But if to the Father, I ask first, how? For it was not by Him that we were being oppressed; and also, on what principle did the Blood of His Only begotten Son delight the Father, Who would not receive even Isaac, when he was being offered by his father, but changed the sacrifice, putting a ram in the place of the human victim? Is it not evident that the Father accepts Him, but neither asked for Him nor demanded Him?

Rather it was on account of the Incarnation, and because humanity must be sanctified by the humanity of God, that He might deliver us Himself, and overcome the tyrant, and draw us to Himself by the mediation of His Son, Who also arranged this to the honor of the Father, Whom it is manifest that He obeys in all things. This is as much we will say of Christ; the greater part we shall reverence with silence.

But that brazen serpent was hung up as a remedy for the biting serpents, not as a type of Him that suffered for us, but as a contrast; and it saved those that looked upon it, not because they believed it to live, but because it was killed, and killed with it the powers that were subject to it, being destroyed as it deserved. And what is the fitting epitaph for it from us?

“O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?”

You are overthrown by the Cross; you are slain by Him who is the Giver of life; you are without breath, dead, without motion, even though you keep the form of a serpent lifted up on high on a pole.


Mystery or Memorial? Sacrament or Symbol?

dkso large

What is the Lord’s Supper? What is the Eucharist? Was it always understood as a Sacrament? Throughout the history of Christianity, the overwhelming majority of Christians have consistently believed that Jesus Christ, in a mystery, imparts His Body and Blood to His people though the vehicle of the Lord’s Supper. Bypassing all the Biblical references, here is a small, non-exhaustive sampling of what they’ve had to say in every generation. If you’re going to read any of them, please read them all.

Ignatius of Antioch AD 35-107

“Mark ye those who hold strange doctrines touch the grace of Jesus which came to us, how they are contrary to the mind of God… They abstain from Eucharist and prayer, because they allow not that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, which flesh suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up.”

“Assemble yourselves together in common… breaking the bread, which the medicine of immortality and the antidote that we should not die but live forever in Jesus Christ.”

Ignatius to the Smyrnaens, 6.2; Ignatius to the Ephesians 20.2

Justin Martyr  AD 100-165

“We do not receive these as common bread or common drink. But juest as our Savior Jesus Christ was made flesh through the Word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food which has been Eucharized by the word of prayer from Him is the flesh and blood of the Incarnate Jesus.”

First Apology 66.2

Irenaeus of Lyons   AD 130-200

“For as the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread, but the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly; so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist are no longer corruptible, having the hope of resurrection to eternity.:

“When, therefore, the mixed cup and baked bread receives the Word of God and becomes the Eucharist, the Body of Christ, and from these the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they say that the flesh is not capable of receiving the gift of God, which is eternal life – flesh is nourished by the Body and Blood of the Lord, and  is in fact, a member of Him?”

Against Heresies 4.18; 5.2,3

 Cyprian of Carthage   AD 200-258

“We may not arouse and exhort those to battle unarmed and naked, but may fortify them with the protection of Christ’s Body and Blood. The Eucharist is designate for this very purpose, that it may be a safeguard to those who receive it.”

Epistle 54

Athanasius of Alexandria  AD 296-373

“You will see the Levites (deacons) bringing loaves and a cup of win, and placing them on the Table. So long as the prayers and invocations have not yet been made, it is mere bread and a mere cup. But when the great and wondrous prayers have been recited, then the bread becomes the Body, and the cup becomes the Blood of Jesus Christ… When the great prayers and holy supplications are sent up, the Word descends on the bread and cup, and it becomes His Body.”

Sermon to the Baptized, quoted in Early Christian Doctrine by J.N.D. Kelley

 Hilary of Poitiers  AD 315-367

“He Himself declares: ‘For My Flesh is real food, and My Blood is real drink. He who eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood abides in Me and I in him.’  It is no longer permitted us to raise doubts about the nature of the Body and the Blood, for, according to the statement of the Lord Himself, as well as our faith, this is indeed Flesh and Blood. And these things that we receive bring it about that we are in Christ and Christ in us… How deeply we are in Him through the sacrament fo the Flesh and Blood.”

The Trinity 8.14

 Cyril of Jerusalem AD 315-386

“Since then He Himself declared and said of the Bread, ‘this is my Body’, who shall dare to doubt any longer? And since He Himself affirmed and said, ‘this is My Blood’, who shall ever hesitate, saying that it is not His Blood? He once, in Cana of Galilee turned water into wine, akin to blood, and is it incredible that He should have turned wine into Blood?

“Consider therefore the bread and wine not as bare elements, for they are, according to the Lord’s declaration, the Body and Blood of Christ; for even though sense suggest this to you, yetlet faith establish you. Judge not the matter from the taste, but from faith be fully assured without misgiving, that the Body and Blood of Christ have been granted to you.”

Catechetical Lectures XXII 1.2; XXII 6

 Basil the Great  AD 330-379

“It is beneficial and good to communicate every day, to partake of the Holy Body and Blood of Christ, for He distinctly says, ‘He that eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood h as eternal life.”

Epistle 93 ad Caesariam

 Gregory of Nyssa    AD 335-395

“Rightly then do we believe that now also the bread which is consecrated by the Word of God is changed into the Body of God the Word… by dispensation of His grace, He disseminates Himself in every believer through that Flesh, whose substance comes from bread and wine, blending Himself with the bodies of the believers, to secure that, by this union with the immortal, man, too, may be a sharer in incorruption. He gives these gifts by virtue of the benediction through which is trans-elements the natural quality of these visibile signs to that immortal thing.”

The Great Catechism XXXVII

Ambrose of Milan   AD 339-397

“We, as often as we receive the Sacramental Elements, which by the mysterious efficacy of holy prayer are transformed into the Flesh and Blood, ‘do show the Lord’s death’.”

The Faith, 4.124

John Chrysostom    AD 345-407

“This which is in the cup is that which flowed from His side, and of that we do we partake… What is the bread? The Body of Christ.”

Homily 24 on First Corinthians; 1,2

Augustine of Hippo    AD 354-430

“That Bread which you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the Word of God, is the Body of Christ. That chalice, or rather, what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the Word of God, is the Blood of Christ. Through that bread and wine the Lord Christ willed to commend His Body and Blood, which He poured out for us unto the forgiveness of sins.”

“What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what  your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the Body of Christ, and the chalice is the Blood of Christ… How is the bread His Body? And the chalice, or what is in the chalice, how is it His Blood? Those elements, brethren, are called Sacraments, because in them one thing is seen, but anoterh is understood. What is seen is the corporeal species; but what is understood is the spiritual fruit.”

Sermon 227; Sermon 272

Cyril of Alexandria    AD 375-444

“He states demonstratively: ‘This is My Body’ and ‘This is my Blood,’ lest you might suppose the things that are seen are a figure. Rather, by some secret of the all-powerful God thethings seen are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, truly offered ina sacrifice in whic we, as particpants, receive the life-giving and sanctifying power of Christ.”

Commentary on Matthew 26,27

Leo  the Great    AD 400-461

“When the Lord says: ‘Unless you shall have eaten the Flesh of the Son of Man and shall have drunk His Blood, you shall not have life in you,’ you ought to so communicate at the Sacred Table that  you have no doubt whatsoever of the truth of the Body and Blood of Christ. For that which is taken in the mouth si what is believed in faith; and in vain do those respond, ‘Amen’ who argue against that which is received.”

Sermon 91:3

Gelasius I of Rome    d. AD 496

“The substance or nature of the bread and wine does not cease to exist, although the elements, the Holy Spirit, perfecting them, pass over into a divine substance, as was the case with Christ Himself. And certainly the image and likeness are honored in the observance of the Mysteries.”

Concerning the Two Natures of Christ, Thiel. Ep. Pontiff, p. 541 f.

 John of Damascus      AD 675-749

 “…not that the Body which was taken up comes back down from heaven, but that the bread itself and the wine are made over into the Body and Blood of God. If you inquire into the way in which this happens, let it suffice for you to hear that it is through the Holy Spirit…  Mmore than this we do not know, except that the Word of God is true and effective and all-powerful; but the manner is inscrutable… the Bread and the Wine are not a type of the Body and Blood of Christ – perish the thought! – but the deified Body itself of the Lord.”

The Source of Knowledge, 3,4,13

Paschasius Radbertus      AD 790-865

“Let no man be moved from this Body and Blood of Christ which in a mystery are true Flesh and Blood since the Creator so willed it… Because the sacrament is mystical, we cannot deny that it is a figure, but if it is a figure, we must inquire how it can be truth. For every figure is a figure of another thing and is always referred to that other thing as being the real thing of which it is a figure.”

The Body and Blood of the Lord I.2; IV.1

Ratramnus of Corbie    d, AD 868

“If, indeed, it is bread in appearance, in the sacrament it is the true Body of Christ, even as the Lord Jesus proclaims, ‘This is my Body,’… they are figures according to he visible form; but according to the invisible substances, i.d. the power of the Divine Word, the true Body and Blood of Christ truly exist.”

Letters to Charles the Bald, 57;49

Thomas Aquinas      AD 1225-1274

“Two things may be considered in the sacrament of the Eucharist. One is the fact that it is a sacrament, and in this respect it is like the other effects of sanctifying grace. The other is that Christ’s Body is miraculously contained therein, and thus, it is included under God’s ominpotence, like all other miracles which are ascribed to God’s almighty power.”

Summa Theologica, Section XV, Question 1, article 9, reply to objection 6

John Wycliffe       AD 1330-1384

“That change does not destroy the nature of bread, nor alter the nature of the Body… but it effects the presence of the Body of Christ and destroys thte preeminence of the bread, so that the whole attention of the worshipper is concentrated upon the Body of Christ… Not that the bread has been destroyed, but that it signifies the Body of the Lord there present in the Sacrament.”

The Eucharist, p. 100,101

John Huss      AD  1375-1415

“The humble priest does not… say that he is the creator of Christ, but that the Lord Christ by His power and Word, through him, causes that which is bread to be His Body; not that at that time it began to be His, but that there on the altar begins to be sacramentally in the form of bread what was previously was not there and therein.”

John Huss, by David Schaff, 1915

Martin Luther     AD 1483-1543

“What is the Sacrament of the Altar? It is the true Body and Blood of Christ, under the bread and wine, given unto us Chrisitans to eat and to drink, as it was instituted by Christ Himself… What is the benefit of such eating and drinking? It is pointed out in these words: Given and shed for you for the remission of sins.”

Small Catechism Section VI

John Calvin     AD 1509-1564

“It is a spiritual mystery which cannot be seen by the eye, nor be comprehended by human understanding. Therefore,  it is represented for us by means of visible signs, according to the need of our weaknesses. Nevertheless, it is not a naked figure, but one joined to its truth and substance. With good reason, then, the bread is called Body, because it not only represents it, but also presents it.”

Short Treatise on the Lord’s Supper

John Wesley     AD  1703-1791

“All who desire an increase of the grace of God are to wait for it in partaking of the Lord’s Supper: for this also is a direction He Himself has given… is not the eating of the bread, and the drinking of that cup, the outward, visible means, whereby God conveys into our souls all that spiritual grace, that righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost which were purchased by the Body of Christ, once broken and the Blood of Christ once shed for us? Let all, therefore, who truly desire the grace of God, eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.”

Sermon 16, The Means of Grace, points 11,12

Andrew Murray  AD 1828-1917

“In the Supper, Christ would take possession of the whole man – body and soul – to renew and sanctify it by the power of His holy Body and Blood. even His Body is communicated by the Holy Spirit. Even our body is fed with His holy Body and renewed by the working of the Holy Spirit… ‘He that eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood, let him abide in Me, and I in him.”

The New Life, p. 205, 2-7

F.F. Bruce    20th Century

“In the Biblical sense, ‘remembrance’ is more than a mental exercise; it involves a realization of what is remembered. At the Passover feast the participants are one with their ancestors of the Exodus; at the Eucharist, Christians experience the Real Presence of their Lord.”

 1st and 2nd Corinthians, Oliphants, 1971; p. 111

R.C.H. Lenski     20th Century

“‘My Body means exactly what the words say: in truth and reality My Body… We refuse to answer the question regarding the how because the Lord withholds the answer. We ould probably not have understood the real answer if it had ben given because of the giving of His Body in the Sacrament is a Divine act of omnipotence and grace which is beyond mortal comprehension. The Lord declares the fact: ‘This is My Body,’ and we take Him at His word.”

The Interpretation of St. Paul’s 1st and 2nd Epistles to the Corinthians, Augsburg, 1963

G.M.A. Jansen    20th Century

“This is the mystery: The Body and blood of Christ are there and He offers them to us a food and drink, because He said so. If you believe in the Mystery of the Incarnation and in that of hte Redemption, you can also believe in the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist, in the Real Presence.”

The Sacramental We, Bruce Publishing, co. 1968, p. 52


 And finally one who didn’t.

Influenced by the rationalistic spirit of the Renaissance and reacting to abuses in the Roman Church, a small segment of Reformation churchmen, centered around Ulrich Zwingli, began to view the Lord’s Supper as an empty symbol, a Real Absence of Christ, instead of a vehicle of grace.

Ulrich Zwingli  AD 1484-1531

“If He has gone away, if He has left this world, if He is no longer with us, then either the Creed is unfaithful to the words of Christ, which is impossible, or else the Body and Blood of Christ cannot be present in the Sacrament. The flesh may fume but the words of Christ stand firm. He sits at the right hand of the Father, He has left the world, He is no longer present with us. And if these words are true, it is impossible to maintain that His Flesh and Blood are present in the Sacrament.”

“The Fathers held exactly the same view as we do. And they use exactly the same speech as we do, for they call the bread and wine the Body and Blood of Christ, although what they really mean is that they are the representation and memorial of His Body and Blood…”

Zwingli and Bullinger, The Westminster Press, p. 214-234

“And just as I have no doubt that this God created heaven and earth, and that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, so I know that it is not possible that the Body of Christ is in the Sacrament.”

Huldrych Zwingli, G.R. Potter, Edward Arnold Pub. 1978; p. 100

 Much of modern American Evangelicalism has taken its view of the Lord’s Supper from the Gnostic Zwinglian tradition, rather than from the mainstream of historic Incarnational Christianity. Althought a multitude of examples could be quoted, Zwingli has stated the case most succinctly, and substantially speaks for them all.

The Orthodox Church, as the historic Church of Christ, has maintained the Lord’s command, and the Apostolic teaching, often at great cost, for the last 2,000+ years.

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 Mystery or Memorial? Sacrament or Symbol?



What Is Eucharist? from 106 AD

angel in liturgy

by St. Ignatius of Antioch

“Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God….They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.”

Letter to the Smyrnaeans



Blood Atonement and the Price of Redemption

bloodby Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

Throughout the New Testament the apostolic witness gives a central place to the theme of Christ’s redeeming blood, which was poured out in his sacrificial death on the Cross. For the whole human race this blood procures deliverance from sin and death. Thus, Paul writes that in Christ

“we have redemption through his blood” (Ephesians 1:7).

John proclaims,

“the blood of Jesus Christ, [God’s] Son, cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

The author of Hebrews asserts of Jesus,

“with his own blood, entered once for all into the Holy Place, obtaining eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12).

There is no proper understanding of this theme without some appreciation of its Old Testament background, particularly the significance of the sacrificial blood. There are three points to be made here:

First, we should speak of the blood and the soul: When the Emperor Nero ordered the philosopher Seneca to take his own life, the philosopher decided to do it in the easiest way possible. A gentle person, he hated violence. Seneca simply had a vein opened in his arm, so that he could die as peacefully as possible. Without a lot of undo trouble and stress, it was just a matter of getting his flesh and his blood separated from one another. The separation of the blood from the body was the equivalent of the sundering of the soul from the body.

It is not as though Seneca actually identified the soul with the blood. Indeed, he wrote a treatise On the Tranquility of the Soul, where nothing is said about blood. Yet, he knew that an infallible way of separating the soul from the body was to sunder the blood from the body. No theory; it was just an application of basic hemadrometry.

Holy Scripture, however, takes an even more explicit view of the matter:

“the soul of the flesh is in the blood”—nephesh habbasar baddam (Leviticus 17:11).

In the Bible, the blood is not just one of the “bodily fluids.” It is the medium of life. As the medium of life, the blood contained the inner being of the living animal, including man. This is why the Old Testament prohibits the consumption of blood.

Second, we should speak of sin and sacrifice: Because the blood represented life at its deepest contact with God, all of the Old Testament sacrifices prescribed for sin were blood sacrifices. Various bloodless sacrifices were offered, but the sin offering required the shedding of blood.

The shedding of the blood of the sacrificial victim was the symbolic gift of self to God on the part of the sinner. He was reconciled to God—was found at-one with God—through the symbolic shedding of the animal’s blood in place of his own. (Blood sacrifice is always substitutionary.) When the relationship between God and man was disrupted by sin, it was required that that disruption be mended by man’s total gift of self, an inner personal surrender symbolized in the sacrificial mactation of the animal. God did not benefit from this sacrifice; man did.

Third, we should speak of the blood of Christ: Because the sacrifices of the Old Testament were only symbolic, it was

“not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4).

The blood of Christ is the true price of our redemption: Jesus poured out his blood, his inner being, in loving adoration of his Father on our behalf.

The image of Christ’s blood in the New Testament always implies the understanding of the blood in the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, in which the shedding of the blood means the restoration of the sinner to friendship with God: Atonement.

The Christian appeal to the imagery of the blood began with Jesus himself, who told his disciples, on the night before his death,

“This is my covenant blood, which is shed for the many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28).

Because Jesus used this language within the liturgical ceremony at the center of the Christian religion, it is not surprising that we find it everywhere in the New Testament. Thus, St. Peter wrote,

“You were not redeemed with corruptible things, . . . but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

And the Christian Church chants to Jesus our Lord:

“To him who loved us and freed us from our sins in his own blood, and has made us a kingdom and priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Rev 1:5).


The Language of Offering in the Sacrifice of Christ

by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

CrucifixionThe New Testament teaches that Jesus gave up his life and handed himself over to unspeakable suffering for the sake of those he loved. Thus, in the Last Supper discourse he declared:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to lay down (thei) his life on behalf of (hyper) his friends. . . No longer do I call you servants . . . but I have called you friends.”

Here Jesus takes up the affirmation contained in his Good Shepherd parable:

“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down (tithesin) his life for (hyper) the sheep. . . . As the Father knows me, even so I know the Father, and I lay down (tithemi) my life for (hyper) the sheep.”

In these Johannine texts two points of vocabulary are particularly to be noted:

First, in respect to the verb, which I have translated as, “lay down,” it is a form of the Greek root the-, which normally means, “to place,” or “to set.” In this idiomatic context, however, the verb is better translated as “to give” or “to lay down.” Although either translation is accurate enough, I have chosen “lay down” because Christian piety, as far as I can tell, has traditionally tended to favor it.

Second, in respect to the preposition, (hyper) which I have translated as “for,” it has the sense of “for the sake of,” or “on behalf of,” or “unto the benefit of.” The Apostle John has this affirmation in mind when he writes of Jesus,

“By this we know love, because he laid down his life for our sake (hyper hemon)” (1 John 3:16).

In respect to Jesus laying down his life, John narrates the ironic “prophecy” uttered by Caiaphas the high priest. After the raising of Lazarus, we recall, the Sanhedrin expressed concern that

“everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and will abolish both our place and nation.”

In response to this concern Caiaphas declared:

“You know nothing whatever, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for (hyper) the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.”

Whereas Caiaphas recommended the murder of Jesus as a political expedient, the Evangelist perceived a deeper and more significant meaning to his words. He realized that the cynical declaration of Caiaphas was, in fact, freighted with the drama of prophecy:

“Now he did not say this on his own, but, being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus would die for the sake of (hyper) the nation, and not for the sake of (hyper) that nation only, but also that he would gather together into one the scattered children of God.”

In these affirmations about Jesus’ death we recognize the root of the early Christian conviction that Christ died for us, on our behalf, for our sake, unto our benefit—hyper hemon. Thus, the Apostle Paul summed up the redemptive work of grace:

“While we were yet powerless, Christ died, at the chosen time, for the sake of (hyper) the ungodly. Indeed, scarcely for (hyper) a righteous man will someone die, though on behalf of (hyper) a good man someone might even dare to die. But God demonstrates His love in our regard, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for our sake (hyper hemon).”

Although classical literature often speaks of someone’s dying for—or risking one’s life for—the sake of someone else, in the Old Testament the idea does not appear often enough to be called a theme.

A notable instance, however, is found in 2 Samuel 23; it is a story of three warriors who put their lives in danger by raiding a Philistine camp at Bethlehem in order to obtain water for David to drink. David, deeply touched by the feat, pours out the water as a libation to the Lord, since it was obtained at the risk of men’s lives. In David’s eyes this water represented their life’s blood:

“And he said, ‘Far be it from me, O Lord, that I should do this! Isn’t this the blood of the men who went with their lives’ [hadam ha’anashim haholakim benaphshotam]. Therefore he would not drink it” (23:17).

It is important to observe that this is the language of sacrifice—in the strict sense of a ritual offering: The water is poured out in libation as a poetic symbol of blood. Inasmuch as these men placed their lives in jeopardy to obtain the water, the latter represented their life’s blood. Consequently, it fell under the Law’s ban against the drinking of blood (cf. Leviticus 17:10).

Blood and Water from His Side

by St. John Chrysostom

1113AChrysostom116Our father among the saints John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, was a notable Christian bishop and preacher from the fourth and fifth centuries in Syria and Constantinople. He is famous for eloquence in public speaking and his denunciation of abuse of authority in the Church and in the Roman Empire of the time. His banishments demonstrated that secular powers had strong influence in the eastern Church at this period in history.

If we wish to understand the power of Christ’s blood, we should go back to the ancient account of its prefiguration in Egypt.

“Sacrifice a lamb without blemish”,

commanded Moses,

“and sprinkle its blood on your doors”

If we were to ask him what he meant, and how the blood of an irrational beast could possibly save men endowed with reason, his answer would be that the saving power lies not in the blood itself, but in the fact that it is a sign of the Lord’s blood.

In those days, when the destroying angel saw the blood on the doors he did not dare to enter, so how much less will the devil approach now when he sees, not that figurative blood on the doors, but the true blood on the lips of believers, the doors of the temple of Christ.

If you desire further proof of the power of this blood, remember where it came from, how it ran down from the cross, flowing from the Master’s side. The gospel records that when Christ was dead, but still hung on the cross, a soldier came and pierced his side with a lance and immediately there poured out water and blood.

Now the water was a symbol of baptism and the blood, of the holy eucharist. The soldier pierced the Lord’s side, he breached the wall of the sacred temple, and I have found the treasure and made it my own. So also with the lamb: the Jews sacrificed the victim and I have been saved by it.

“There flowed from his side water and blood”

Beloved, do not pass over this mystery without thought; it has yet another hidden meaning, which I will explain to you. I said that water and blood symbolized baptism and the holy eucharist. From these two sacraments the Church is born: from baptism,

“the cleansing water that gives rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit”,

and from the Holy Eucharist. Since the symbols of baptism and the Eucharist flowed from his side, it was from his side that Christ fashioned the Church, as he had fashioned Eve from the side of Adam Moses gives a hint of this when he tells the story of the first man and makes him exclaim:

“Bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh!”

As God then took a rib from Adam’s side to fashion a woman, so Christ has given us blood and water from his side to fashion the Church. God took the rib when Adam was in a deep sleep, and in the same way Christ gave us the blood and the water after his own death.

Do you understand, then, how Christ has united his bride to himself and what food he gives us all to eat? By one and the same food we are both brought into being and nourished. As a woman nourishes her child with her own blood and milk, so does Christ unceasingly nourish with his own blood those to whom he himself has given life.