On the Thursday before Easter (Աւագ Հինգշաբթի) the Armenian Church commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus, when he established the mystery of his abiding presence among God’s people through Holy Communion of his living Body and Blood in the Divine Liturgy.
Jesus, today you sat down with your hungry farmhands gathered around you. With every step you took, you plowed with them the rocky, hardened land of Israel. You were a plowman and a sower of seed and they were your courageous tillers. You sowed fistfuls of the seed of the Word of Life. You, true vine, planted your orchard at the summit of Golgotha.
Behold! Taking into your hands a cup of the fruit of the vine and a loaf of the bread of Good News, you bless. You give thanks. You break. And you say, “Take, eat, believe. That bread appears to be mere bread. But it is really and truly my Body. It is life. It is not the manna from the desert that your fathers ate in their faulty faith and then died. Instead, you, their faithful children, with your resolute faith, eat this Bread of Life and live forever! And drink this cup filled with joy and jubilation. It really is my blood, which I will spill on the Cross, breaking the cup of my body.”
For three years you proclaimed unceasingly, “I am the living bread that has come down from heaven.” Obstinate ones did not want to understand this mystical message of yours. Perplexed, they became indignant and murmured, “How can he give us his body to eat?”
Yet today, behold! You unveil in plain sight the mystery of Communion. Blessing ordinary bread and wine, you sanctify them and with your hands you distribute them, saying, “Here you are! This is my Body and my Blood.”
Lord, we believe that through the example of the Bread, you join your life with our life. You fuse your immortality with our mortality, so that through your life, humanity’s life may be immortalized. That is why you constantly repeated, “Truly, truly, I say to you: If you do not eat the Body of the Son of Man or drink his Blood, you have no life in you.” Yes, Lord, your Body is real food and your Blood is real drink. Blessed are they who eat this meal with faith.
Catholicos Mkrtich I Khrimian (1820-1907), popularly and lovingly referred to as Khrimian Hayrig, is surely one of the greatest leaders of the Armenian Church in modern times. Passionately concerned for the welfare of the Armenians in the waning days of the crumbling Ottoman Empire, he is best remembered as an outspoken advocate for the right of self-determination for his people. To that end he led the Armenian delegation at the Conference of Berlin in 1878. The blessed Catholicos was also–perhaps even more so–a devout and inspired preacher and a man of resolute Christian faith and fervent prayer. This excerpt is translated from his book Յիսուսի վերջին շաբաթ. Խաչի ճառ [Jesus’ Final Week: Discourse on the Cross], published in Constantinople in 1894. A precious copy of this book is housed in the ZIC collection.