Self-Imposed Excommunication

Venerable Parasceva (Petka) of Serbia

Venerable Parasceva (Petka) of Serbia

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

The word excommunication may cause shock and fear to some who hear it. Others may not even know that it means. To many there is a greater deal of confusion surrounding the word and the issues it represents. The word excommunication, from the Orthodox Christian perspective, means to be excluded from Holy Communion. As many know, this most certainly refers to all non-Orthodox Christians and non-Christians.

However, many do not know that even Orthodox Christians can be excluded from Holy Communion. The Holy Canons of the Orthodox Church enumerate numerous circumstances (various types of sins) and appropriate penances (epitimia) which can exclude a Christian from receiving Holy Communion. Often times, the excommunication is for a certain period of time (weeks, months, or even years) but usually is ended when the Christian fulfills the penance and appropriately repents through the sacrament of Repentance and Confession and subsequent change of life.

For example, an Orthodox Christian who marries in a non-Orthodox Church is automatically excommunicated until the marriage is conducted in the Orthodox Church. With separation and divorce, spouses are usually excluded from Holy Communion until they reconcile with one another or they receive an ecclesiastical (Church) divorce from the Metropolis of Chicago. An Orthodox Christian co-habituating without a proper marriage ceremony also is excommunicated. A person who renounces his/her Orthodox Christian Faith and joins another religion is also excommunicated. Also, an Orthodox Christian who has fallen in the great sins of adultery, abortion and fornication.

There are those who may say that excommunication is too harsh of a punishment. However, it is not done for punishment sake. It is not done to embarrass or humiliate the penitent. It is done out of love and as a spiritual discipline to call the person to an awareness of their broken state of sin and motivate them to properly repent and reconcile to those trespassed against as well as reconciled to the Holy Church.

Naturally if the parish priest becomes aware of a situation that may be grounds for excommunication, he will most certainly attempt to personally contact you. This will be done out of love and concern for the person's salvation and to encourage repentance through the sacrament of Repentance/Confession. It will also be done to inform you if you should not receive Holy Communion and for how long. If you have been excommunicated by another priest or bishop, please do not force the issue by approaching in defiance the Chalice during the Divine Liturgy. The priest will have no choice but to refuse you Holy Communion.

However, my immediate concern is not imposing excommunication on any one but the self-imposed excommunication by the Orthodox Christian. In other words, the Orthodox Christian that for whatever personal reason decides to cut himself/herself from the Holy Eucharist, from the Orthodox Church. However, anyone that wrongly and through the deception of the Evil One (Satan) believes that by rejecting Christ and the Church that he/she is inflicting pain and suffering to others. Self-imposed excommunication hurts the misguided and confused individual and no one else. There are no good reasons for self-imposed excommunication which brings damnation. The sacrament of sacraments, the Holy Eucharist, is the Orthodox Christian believers life, healing, reconciliation, forgiveness and eternal life in the Kingdom of God. Why would anyone desire to give that up?

If an incident in your life brought shame on you, if you were hurt by someone, if you were offended by someone, if you were provoked by someone, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ demands that you forgive him or her otherwise He will not forgive you. Saint Paul to the Ephesians writes, "bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must" (Colossians 3:13). In the Gospel of Saint Mark we are told, "And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses" (11:23). In the Lord's Prayer we hear, "And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors" (St. Matthew 6:12). By using the plural, Jesus directs each of us to pray for the Father's forgiveness of all, and for all of us to forgive one another. Although God's forgiveness is primary, Jesus clearly teaches that there is a reciprocal relationship between Divine and human forgiveness.

Furthermore, even if you consider another Christian, fellow parishioner, a member of the parish council or even your parish priest, as your enemy, our Lord Jesus Christ very clear commands the following: "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and one the good, and sends rain on the just and one the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?" (St. Matthew 5:44-46).

I am sure you see that there is absolutely no justification for self-imposed excommunication and for anyone to attempt to justify it. Seek reconciliation with your enemies and above all with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Please remember that a cut-flower does not live very long.

With sincere love in our Most Merciful Lord,

+Father George