Where We Agree With The Eastern Orthodox Against Mere Memorialism

One difference between Presbyterian/Reformed Christians and Eastern Orthodox Christians concerns how we understand the elements. Eastern Orthodox Christians think that the bread and the wine function much like icons do in Orthodox worship, as signs that give access to what is signified, and so the elements should be treated very respectfully. Presbyterians think that the access isn’t so much in the piece of bread or in the juice or the wine, but rather in the action of eating and drinking. The elements are only holy while we are eating and drinking them. It still makes sense to show some respect for the elements, the way we do for lots of special items that we use in church.

The truth is that over the years many Presbyterians lost this understanding of the sacrament, even though it is part of our tradition. There are a lot of Presbyterian and Reformed congregations that celebrate communion as if they are members of group one, the memorialist group. But our Book of Confessions is absolutely clear that we do not belong to group one. We believe in the real presence of Jesus in the sacrament of communion, and we believe that the Holy Spirit uses communion to unite us to Jesus in a special way. When Jesus told us to eat of His body and drink of His blood, we believe He meant we should be deeply and truly united to Him through this sacrament. Our Essential Tenets describe Communion in this way.

—Laura Smit, “Meeting Jesus At His Table

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