“Give us this day our daily bread…” The humble English translation of this petition hides the peculiarity of the Greek adjective: “epiousios.” It most literally means something like “supersubstantial.” It is common among contemporary biblical scholars to concede a terrestrial meaning to this petition, asking for what us is essential for the coming day. Even the common Slavonic translation “nasuschnyj” gives the impression that it is that which is needful.
However, the Fathers make a strong case that the bread we ask for is none other than the supersubstantial Eucharist.
Origen immediately interprets this petition in light of Jesus’ claims about being the bread from heaven, sent by the father. Origen, one of the most erudite linguists of the ancient Church, relays that this word is peculiar to the Gospel writers. A similar word can be found in the Septuagint: “periousios.” God uses this to describe Israel’s relationship with the true God, “You shall be to me a periousios people.” (Ex 19:5) Both instances of the word contain the Greek word meaning “being” or “essence.” On the basis of this, he concludes that the kind of bread in the Our Father refers to is the bread that feeds us on the level of our being, uniting us with the essence of God.
Both Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus the Confessor see the petition for daily bread as simply asking for the essential sustenance for the day. Nyssa writes: “So we say to God; Give us bread. Not delicacies or riches, nor magnificent purple robes, golden ornaments, precious stones, or silver dishes. Nor do we ask Him for landed estates, or military commands, or political leadership…but only bread!” (Homily on The Lord’s Prayer, Sermon 4) Maximus emphasizes simplicity in this petition of the Lord’s prayer, saying, “Let us not go beyond the borders of the prayer in greedily speculating on periods of many years, and let us not forget that we are mortal and possess a life as fleeting as a shadow,” (Commentary on the Our Father).
Is Origen in conflict with Nyssa and Maximus’ on the meaning of the prayer? Absolutely not. The liturgical context on the prayer shows us how the supernatural and the simple can coexist. In every Eucharistic liturgy, East and West, the Our Father proceeds the reception of communion. The Eucharistic character of this petition is unmistakable. It is in the Eucharist that we can be assured that God answers our petition in the Lord’s Prayer. We receive our daily nourishment in the Divine Son who makes himself a humble morsel of bread for our sake. There we partake in the very essence of God; there is simply nothing else worth asking for.
As printed in Horizons, The Eparchial Newspaper of the Eparchy of Parma