Leavened or Unleavened Bread

Respected Thirumeni,

We are using leavened Bread for our Holy Qurbana. The reason behind this, as far as I understand is that Christ instituted the Mystery of Holy Qurbana during the supper at the Upper Room which, as per the narrations in the New Testament, happened well before the Jewish Passover and therefore, only leavened Bread would have been used. If this narration in the Bible is so transparent, then why do Western Churches are using unleavened Bread? Even our Armenian church is using unleavened Bread. The Marthomites too do likewise, though they are not that western. Could there be some theological reasons apart from our "before passover theory"?

Whether our using leavened Bread has any relevance to the following verses?

  1. Leviticus  7:13 ( 7:12 differs )
  2. Leviticus 23:16,17
  3. Amos       4:5
  4. 1 Cor. 5:8 ( Here, Western based versions say "unleavened" whereas Pashetha say "leavened" )

During my college days ( late '60s and early "70s ) I was a regular in the madbaha ( UC College chapel ) and the vicar there used to insist for unleavened Bread for the Holy Qurbana on Maundy Thursday, which I carried out religiously for 6 years. Now I realise that it was wrong.

The new generation fellowships like Heavenly Feast and the like conduct a Lord's Table reciting the Words of Institution where they use bread from bakery with wine. Though they vehemently oppose Orthodox theology, this bread is leavened. May be they are not much concerned on its theology.

Thirumeni, I shall be extremely thankful to Your Grace for the correct theology on this issue and the reasons why differences prevail in Episcopal Churches despite the narrations in the Bible being the same.

Your spiritual son, (?)

Dear ...

Sorry it took so long to reply. The New Testament does not have a all agreed statement about the Passover celebration of Jesus. According to John 11:55 it was “before Passover”, which means Jesus celebrated Passover on the previous day of the Jewish Passover, which according to their custom was anticipatory Passover (in our liturgical prayers it was cheru pesaha) and there, you are right, Jesus had to use leavened bread as per the rules of Passover. Unleavened bread was used only on the exact day of Passover. People used to celebrate Passover on previous days to avoid crowd in the temple and they had to do it with leavened bread. There is another reason for John following this. For John Jesus was the lamb of God who had to be slaughtered as a Passover lamb (1:29,36) on the Passover day instead of the day following. If he had celebrated Passover on the Jewish Passover day, he would have been crucified on the next day, a day after the Passover day. So the crucifixion of Jesus was on the Passover day when the lamb had to be slaughtered and had to be eaten the same day fully. So Jesus was slaughtered on the Passover day as the Passover lamb and was buried on the same day because that was a Friday and it was objectionable for them to have the body on the cross on a Sabbath day and the Sabbath day was a great Sabbath as it was the Sabbath of Passover (Mark 15:42 ff.).

But for the other three Gospels Jesus’ Passover was on the Jewish Passover day (Mat. 26:17 ff.;  Mark 14:1; Luke 22:7). This is one day after the Passover of Jesus as per John’s testimony. Added to that what Paul writes, as you said, in 1 Cor. 5:8 also testifies that Jesus celebrated Passover on the day of Jewish Passover (also see John 18:28. “.. But they themselves did not go in to the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover” ).  The western Church which takes Paul as its fundamental theologian would accept these testimonies as basis for what they do regarding the kind of bread they use for communion. However, now most of the biblical interpreters agree that John’s account is more historical for more than one reason than of the synoptic gospels. For us, Orthodox Christians, John is the first among the theologians of the Church (see the hymn of matrimonial liturgy (... suvisesham yohannane ...).

When a certain tradition gets deep rooted in the community it is hard to change it even if people later realize that the tradition was founded on not so historical or otherwise safe grounds. In the case of the western Church, now what is important is not the historical accuracy, but the theology of Passover. For them Jesus’ last meal was the Passover meal of Jews which marked the removal of the slavery of (not Pharaoh) sin. So nothing of old (leaven) is to be there. We may have to give them the favour of this reason instead of judging them as wrong. On our part also we do not follow strictly historical dates and days (In the case of Jesus’ death and resurrection we are following the western calendar and not the eastern one. For Christmas we are not following the actual historical date of the birth of Jesus or the set calendar of Orthodox tradition. According to Orthodox tradition birth of Jesus was celebrated along with his baptism on the 6th of the first month – as a matter of fact the birth of Jesus was not so much important for us, rather baptism was-. Here again we are following not historical accuracy but theological and cultural reasons. So why cannot the Western Church do the same? For the sectarian communities, they do not look for any valid theology. Theirs are communities of free people and adopt theology of convenience. I do not want to write more on them in this regard.

Hope I have addressed your question.

Regards and prayers

Thirumeni