Is There Intercommunion Between the Orthodox Church and Christians of Other Christian Confessions?

Holy, Glorious Apostle Thomas

Holy, Glorious Apostle Thomas

Dear friends in Christ Our Savior,
Christ is in our midst!

The question is whether there is intercommunion between the Orthodox Church and Christians of other Christian confessions or traditions? The immediate answer it is not allowed.

Further, Orthodox Christianity does not permit its faithful to receive communion in non-Orthodox communities, whether they be Roman Catholic, Protestant, or whatever.

For Orthodox Christians, the Holy Eucharist or Holy Communion is a visible sign of unity in faith, to receive communion to which one does not belong is improper. If one does not accept all that the Church believes and teaches and worships, one cannot make a visible sign of unity with it. The Holy Eucharist is the result of unity, not the means by which unity is achieved. While many non-Orthodox see this as a sign that the Orthodox Church excludes non-Orthodox individuals from the Holy Eucharist in reality the opposite is true. Because a non-Orthodox person has chosen not to embrace all that Orthodox Christianity holds, the non-Orthodox individuals make it impossible for an Orthodox priest to offer him or her Holy Communion. It is not so much a matter of Orthodoxy excluding non-Orthodox as it is the non-Orthodox making it impossible for the Orthodox Church to offer the Holy Eucharist.

Sometimes people argue, 'But Father, I believe everything the Orthodox Church teaches.' If this is indeed the case, then the question is not one of Eucharistic hospitality but rather, 'Then if you believe everything the Orthodox teaches, why haven't you become an Orthodox Christian?

What I find troubling is the lack of understanding among Orthodox Christians who are married to non-Orthodox and still insist that the Orthodox priest open the door to all the sacraments to their non-Orthodox spouses and non-Orthodox relatives. They find the attitude of their Church embarrassing. They even demand funeral and memorial services for their non-Orthodox spouses. This attitude reveals their ignorance regarding their Church and Orthodox Christian faith.

It is the responsibility of the Orthodox Christians to take time and explain the position of their Church to their non-Orthodox spouses and others, and not to encourage them to get in line and receive Holy Communion. It is very difficult for any Orthodox priest to know who, among all those in line to receive, who is a convert to Orthodoxy and who is not, when they all receive as a family. There are times that we, as Orthodox priests, make an announcement before Holy Communion to inform the congregation that the Holy Communion is only for the Orthodox faithful. Other times, if we see someone who we do not know, we may ask them if they indeed are Orthodox or not, before we offer Holy Communion. As painful as this refusal is, it is based on our understanding of the true meaning of the sacrament as revealed in Holy Scripture and ecclesial experience.

In the first place, you need to know that many Protestant Christians do not believe that the Holy Eucharist is the very Body and Blood of Christ but simply a symbol. There is no Apostolic Succession in the Protestant tradition and therefore there is an absence of the sacrament of Priesthood and ordained clergy. Their ministers are lay Protestant theologians and preachers but not bishops or priests.

Then again, Orthodox Eucharistic theology does not explain the change of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ as a result of "transubstantiation", the teaching that the "accidents" (visible properties) of the elements remain unaltered , while their "substance" or inner essence becomes the actual Body and Blood as taught by the Roman Catholic Church. Orthodox Tradition speaks of "change" or "transformation," (metamorphosis; in the Eucharistic Divine Liturgy metavalon, ("making the change") but always with a concern to preserve the mystery from the probings of human reasons. It also speaks of the Body and Blood of the glorified Christ, making the point that our communion is in the personal being of the Resurrected and Exalted Lord, and not in the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus, torn and shed on the Cross. The Incarnate Jesus and the Risen Christ are certainly one and the same Person ("Jesus Christ is Lord", the Apostle Paul declares in Philippians 2:11). But our communion is in the radically transformed reality of the Risen Christ, Who ascended into heaven and makes Himself accessible to us through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit within the Church.

From this perspective, "open communion"--the welcoming of non-Orthodox to share in the Eucharistic celebration--is simply not possible without undermining the very meaning of the sacrament. This implies no particular judgment on the Eucharistic services of other churches. It acknowledges rather that for the Orthodox, the Divine Liturgy is what the name implies. It is both the means and the end of Christian existence, an existence which arises from Orthodox faith, ongoing repentance, ascetic discipline, ecclesial identity and works of love. To those who accept this "Orthodox Way," the Eucharist offers a true participation in the very Life of the Risen and glorified Christ, just as it offer the forgiveness of sins, the healing of soul and body, and a foretaste of the heavenly Banquet in the eternal presence of God." (Orthodox Church in America)

Approximately 95% of the weddings in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America are inter-Christian marriages or mixed marriages. It means that the Orthodox Christian is married either to a Roman Catholic or Protestant Christian. But just because the marriage took place in the Orthodox Church does not mean that the non-Orthodox Christian is now automatically a member of the Orthodox Church and has all her rights. We do not impose our Orthodox Christian faith on anyone who does not want it.

Please everyone make every possible effort to learn as much as you can about our Holy Orthodox Christian faith. An Orthodox Christian does not have to attend religious instruction at the parish or even read an entire book on it today. Why? Because everything is on the Internet and the website of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. You don't even have to leave the comfort of your home.

In Christ Our Lord,

+Father George