This is one of my favourite mysteries as I have such a deep love of the Holy Mass which is really the reenactment of this event -- basically unchanged after 2000 years.
The story goes that Jesus and his 12 apostles met together to celebrate the Feast of the Passover -- this turned out to be the night before Christ was crucified.
It was a solemn occasion -- not only because of the Feast -- but mainly because Jesus had been preparing his followers in the previous days for his crucifixion and death.
In the icon, you can see St. John and St. Peter on each side of Jesus. John, possibly the youngest of the apostles and someone who might have seen Jesus as a father figure, is leaning his head against the heart of Jesus. Peter, whom Jesus has designated to be the leader of the apostles after his death, sits on his right side.
In the Gospel that John would write some years later, he tells how Jesus had taught that "unless you eat my body and drink my blood, you cannot have life within you". Here, at this final meal together, Jesus demonstrates this teaching clearly.
He picks up the bread and says "This is my body which is being given up for you, take and eat." If you notice in the icon, Jesus is holding a piece of bread which, in his hands, has already turned a golden colour. St. John is also holding his piece of bread which has also changed colour.
Then Jesus picked up the cup of wine and said: "This is my blood which will be poured out for you, take and drink." Then the cup was shared.
These words are basically the same ones used to this very day in the Catholic Mass and the Orthodox Liturgy and both groups hold to the belief that the words and actions of the priest actually changes the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.
You know the saying: you are what you eat -- well, I believe that by feeding on the precious Body and Blood, I will become like Christ.
I mention all this, even though I know that some of my readers are not particularly interested in all this religious stuff, because this Holy Meal is truly the centre of my faith and my life.
You will also notice in the icon that one of the apostles is standing, grabbing for some food and apparently paying no attention to the sacred words of Christ. If you look very closely, you will also see that his piece of bread is already broken in two and cast aside. This figure represents poor Judas -- the one who betrayed Christ for 30 pieces of silver.
I have always felt sorry for Judas and hoped that in those seconds between jumping and being strangled by the noose that he was able to cry out something like "God have mercy on me." If he did so, I feel confident that God listened.
The words in Greek at the top of the icon stand for "Institution of Eucharist".
So now it is back to work on the 20th icon.
Meanwhile, may peace be with you all.