Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Orthodoxy - Mysteries


Does the Body of Christ vivify us during Holy Communion?

Why did Jesus say: “Flesh is of no benefit"?

Patristic quotes for the interpretation of John 6:63: "It is the Spirit Who quickens; flesh is of no benefit: the words that I speak to you, they are spirit, and they are life".

Source of Patristic passages : “Memorandum on the Gospel according to John v.63” - by P.N.Trembelas


In two previous (Greek) articles on this topic, we provided the Orthodox interpretation of John v. 63, which is maltreated by various Protestant religions in their attempt to convince that the Body and Blood of Christ are only symbols and not the true Body and Blood of the Lord (even though He Himself had clearly stated it).

We intend to present Patristic passages here, which evidence that the Church has always perceived this passage correctly – and in the same manner – as early as the first years of the ancient Church.

We remind the reader of the verse being examined (highlighted in red), in its context:

54 Whoever eats of My flesh and drinks of My blood has eternal life, and I will resurrect him on the last day. 55 For My flesh is truly food and My blood is truly drink. 56 He who eats of My flesh and drinks of My blood lives in Me, and I in him. 57 Just as the living Father sent Me and I live through the Father, thus he who eats of Me will live through Me. 58 This is the bread which has come down from heaven—not as your fathers, who had eaten the manna and died; he who eats of this bread will live forever.” 59 These things He said in the synagogue while teaching in Capernaum. 60 Many of His disciples when hearing this, said, “This is a hard speech; who can listen to it?” 61 When Jesus perceived within Him that His disciples were muttering about it, He said to them, “Does this scandalize you? 62 What, then, if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? 63 It is the Spirit Who vivifies; flesh is of no benefit. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:54-63)

Having taken this last phrase literally - that the reference supposedly pertains to Christ, Whose flesh (Body) is supposedly NOT beneficial – the Protestants have claimed that the reference is merely a symbolism. They have brazenly ignored Christ’s preceding words, where He clearly says: “For My flesh is truly food and My blood is truly drink… he who eats of Me will live through Me…”

So, are we to assume that our Lord Jesus Christ is contradicting Himself?  Or is it they who can’t understand what they are reading?

From P.N. Trembelas’ tome: “Memorandum on the Gospel according to John”, we shall now quote the following Patristic excerpts, which evidence how, even back then, they had interpreted those words of the Lord:

According to Zigavinos:

(Efthymios Zigavinos – “Interpretation of the Gospel according to John”).

 By ‘spirit’, he now means to spiritually comprehend the things that are said, and by ‘flesh’, to (=literally) comprehend them as flesh  …He says therefore now, that by comprehending them spiritually, they will provide life… whereas to comprehend them as flesh, they will not be of any benefit.”

Spiritual and life-giving are they (=My words); for this, they should not be seen simply, but rather, comprehended spiritually”.


And as Saint John the Chrysostom says:

(John Chrysostom - “Homily 47 on the Gospel according to John”).

And what is a “comprehending by the flesh”? To look simply at what is before you, and not imagining something further. That is what “by the flesh” means.  It is necessary… that all the mysteries be examined by the inner eyes; for that is what “spiritually” means.”

“…having nothing of the flesh… they (Christ’s words) lie even above the laws that prevail here, as having a differed meaning.”   


Saint Cyril of Alexandria provides us with yet another dimension of the topic, as follows:

(Saint Cyril of Alexandria, "On the Gospel according to John" IV ch.3).

(The Holy Spirit) “…can vivify”… But when the nature of flesh per se is regarded separately and alone, it is not life-giving… rather, that which vivifies should prevail: given that it (=flesh) becomes joined to the life-giving Logos, it becomes entirely vivified”.     

In fact, Saint Cyril of Alexandria also stresses the detail that the verse does not specifically refer to Christ’s flesh, because it does not say “My flesh”, but generally, that “flesh is of no benefit”.

For neither Paul’s perchance (flesh), nor Peter’s – that is, someone else’s – can work this within us” and vivify us; “so that, for all the others, the statement that ‘flesh is of no benefit’ is true; it is however rendered invalid in Christ’s case only, given that life dwells within it (His flesh)that is, in the Only-begotten One”.

(Christ’s words) are “…spiritual and about the Spirit”, and they are vivifying and they speak of the natural life”.


Saint Athanasios the Great states it even more clearly:

(Saint Athanasios the Great, “On the incarnate advent of God the Logos”, and “Against Arians”, 16 Migne 26, 1011).

For the flesh of the Lord is a vivifying Spirit, because it was conceived of the vivifying Holy Spirit. For that which is born of the Spirit is a spirit.” (John 3:6)


Saint Augustine says the exact same thing:

My words must be taken spiritually”.


In conclusion:

As evidenced in both of our previous relevant articles, but also in this one, Christ’s Church has perennially interpreted the words of our Lord in the same, spiritual manner.

Christians know that Christ – having clearly stated that eating of His flesh and drinking of His blood is LIFE-GIVING, and that His Body and His Blood are TRULY food and drink – then afterward, when His audience became scandalized, He clarified things in the following manner:  “Do not try to perceive in the flesh the things that I said, because your flesh will not be of any benefit to you.  I furthermore did NOT imply that any, common flesh can vivify you. It is the Holy Spirit Who can give life, and because the Holy Spirit is inside My flesh, you will be vivified by partaking of My flesh and My Blood.  My Body is not just any flesh, like everyone else's’ - as you may think - because Divinity dwells inside My body, and that is what vivifies you, when you partake of it (with Holy Communion).  So, attend to My words in a SPIRITUAL manner and not as flesh, because My words are spirit and life, for those who perceive them in their appropriate, spiritual dimension and obey them.

The Lord Jesus Christ – as the Logos of God – has in His words a Creative and Life-giving energy. His words are not a mere expression of His mind, such that can be comprehended by our flesh.  They are the incarnating and the imparting of Spirit and Life.


By N.M.

Translation:  E.M. & A.N.

Article published in English on: 3-4-2018.

Last update: 3-4-2018.