The Meaning of Preperation for Holy Communion

Extreme Humility

Extreme Humility

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

HOLY AND GREAT MONDAY

Behold the Bridegroom cometh in the midst of the night, and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching; and again unworthy is he whom He shall find heedless. Beware, therefore, O my soul, lest thou be borne down with sleep, lest thou be given up to death, and lest thou be shut out from the Kingdom. Wherefore rouse thyself and cry: Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, our God, through the protection of the Heavenly Hosts save us.

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THE KATHISMATA 1st Tone

The sublime sufferings, on this day, shine upon the world as a Light of salvation, for Christ, of His goodness, draws near to His sufferings. He Who holds all things in His grasp, consents to be hung upon the Tree, that He may save mankind.

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O Unseen Judge, how hast Thou shewn Thyself in the flesh, and how hast Thou come to be slain by lawless men; Thus through Thy suffering condemning our condemnation. Wherefore we ascribe praise and dominion and glory; and these with one voice we offer to Thy Power, O Thou that are the Logos (Word).

EXAPOSTEILARION 3rd Tone.

I see Thy Bridal Chamber adorned, O my Savior, and I have no wedding garment that I may enter therein; O Giver of Light, make radiant the vesture of my soul and save me.

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THE MEANING OF PREPARATION FOR HOLY COMMUNION
By Father Alexander Schmemann (Source: Great Lent)

In our present situation, shaped in many ways by the practice of "infrequent" communion, the preparation for it means primarily the fulfillment by the communicant-to-be of certain disciplinary and spiritual prescriptions and rules: abstention from otherwise permitted acts and activities, reading of certain canons and prayers (Rule for Those Preparing Themselves for Holy Communion printed in our prayer books), abstention from food during the morning before Holy Communion, etc. But before we come to this preparation in the narrow sense of the word, we must, in the light of what has been said, try to recover the idea of preparation in its wider and deeper meaning.

Ideally, of course, the whole life of a Christian is and should be preparation for Holy Communion, just as it is and should be the spiritual fruit of Communion. "Unto Thee we commit our whole life and hope, O Lord..." we read in the liturgical prayer before Holy Communion. All of our life is judged and measured by our membership in the Church and therefore by our participation in the Holy Body and Precious Blood of Christ. All of it is to be filled with and transformed by the grace of that participation. The worst consequence of our present practice is that it "cuts off" preparation for Holy Communion from life itself, and by doing this makes our real life even more profane, more unrelated to the faith we profess. But Christ did not come to us so that we may set apart a small segment of our life for our "religious obligations." He claimed the whole of man and the totality of his life. And He left with us the Sacrament of Holy Communion with Himself so that it may sanctify and purify our whole existence and relate all aspects of our life to Him. A Christian thus is one who lives between: between the coming of Christ in the flesh and His return in glory to judge the quick and the dead; between Eucharist and Eucharist--the Sacrament of remembrance and the Sacrament of hope and anticipation. In the early Church it was precisely the rhythm of that participation in the Holy Eucharist--the living in the remembrance of the one and in the expectation of the next--which truly shaped Christian spirituality and gave it its true content: the participation, while living in this world, in the new life of the world to come and the transformation of the "old" by the "new".

In practical terms this preparation consists, first of all, in the awareness not only of "Christian principles" in general, but precisely of communion itself--both of the one that I have already received and which, by making me a partaker of the Body and Blood of Christ, judges my life, challenges me with the inescapable all to be what I have become, and of the one that I shall receive, in the life and holiness and approaching Light of which time itself and all the details of my life acquire an importance, a spiritual significance which from a purely human and "secular" points of view they would not have. A venerable priest, when asked how one can live a Christian life in the world, answered: "Simply by remembering that tomorrow (or after tomorrow, or in a few days) I shall receive Holy Communion..."

One of the simplest ways to generate the beginning of that awareness is to include prayers before and after Holy Communion in to our daily rule of prayer. Usually we read the prayers of preparation just before Holy Communion and the prayers of thanksgiving just after, and having read them, we simply return to our "profane" life. But what prevents us from reading one or several prayers of thanksgiving during the first days of the week after the Sunday Eucharist, and the prayers of preparation during the second part of the week, thus introducing the awareness of the Sacrament into our daily life, referring the whole of our life to the Holy Gifts received an about to be received? This of course is only one step. Much more is needed and, above all, a real rediscovery--through preaching, teaching, and counseling--of the Holy Eucharist itself as the Sacrament of the Church and therefore the very source of all Christian life.

The second level of preparation is centered on that self-examination of which Saint Paul speaks: "...let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup" (1 Corinthians 11:28). The goal of that preparation consisting of fasting, special prayers (the Rule for Those Preparing Themselves for Communion), spiritual concentration, silence, etc., as we have seen already not to make a man consider himself "worthy," but to make him aware precisely of his unworthiness and to lead him to true repentance. Repentance is all this: man seeing his sinfulness and weakness, realizing his state of separation from God, experiencing sorrow and pain because of that state, desiring forgiveness and reconciliation, rejecting the evil and opting for a return to God, and finally desiring Holy Communion for the "healing of soul and body."

This repentance begins however not with preoccupation with one's self but with the contemplation of the holiness of Christ's Gift, of the heavenly reality to which one is called. It is only because and inasmuch as we see the "bridal chamber adorned" that we can realize that we are deprived of the garment needed to enter therein. It is only because Christ has come to us that we can truly repent, i.e., see ourselves as unworthy of His love and of His holiness and thus desire to return to Him. Without true repentance, this inner and radical "change of mind," (metanoia), communion for us will be for "damnation" and not "healing." Yet it is the very fruit of repentance that, by making us realize our total unworthiness, it takes us to Christ as the only salvation, healing, and redemption. By revealing to us our unworthiness, repentance fills us with that desire, that humility, that obedience which alone in the eyes of God, makes us "worthy."

Finally, the third and the highest level of preparation is reached when we desire to receive Holy Communion simply because we love Christ and long to be united to Him who "with desire has desired" to be united to us. Beyond the need and the desire for forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing there is, there must be, simply this: our love for Christ whom we love "because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19). And ultimately it is this love and nothing else that makes it possible for us to cross the abyss separating the creature from the Creator, the sinful from the Holy One, this world from the Kingdom of God. It is this love which alone truly transcends and therefore abolishes as an irrelevant dead end all our human--all too human--digressions about "worthiness" and "unworthiness", brushes away our fears and inhibitions, makes us surrender to the Divine Love. "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. He that fears is not made perfect in love..." (1 John 4:18). It is the love which inspired the beautiful prayer of Saint Symeon the New Theologian:

"...partaking of the Divine Mysteries which deify man, I am no longer alone, but with Thee, O my Christ...And I shall not be left without Thee, the Life-Giver, my breath, my life, my joy, the salvation of the world."

Such then is the goal of all preparation, all repentance, all efforts and prayers: that we may love Christ and "with boldness and without condemnation" partake of the Sacrament in which Christ's love is given to us.

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THE FORGOTTEN MEDICINE
By Archimandrite Seraphim Aleksiev (Source: The Forgotten Medicine)

The Holy Sacrament of Confession can rightly be called "the Forgotten Medicine." The whole world is lying in evil. Every one of us is infected with the deadly disease of sin, and one can be cured from this disease! The medicine is provided, and it is miraculous at that. You are healed the moment you take it. But we do not reach for it, to be healed and to lighten our conscience. Why? Because we have forgotten and neglected it...

Rules for a Saving Confession

All Christians without exception must go to Confession if they wish to be saved. But how should the truly faithful Confession occur? Many do not know this, and that is why it is necessary to discuss this question more thoroughly. Here we will look at the following three parts of Confession:

a)     What we should do before we go to the confessor.

b)     What we should do when we are with the confessor.

c)     What we should do when we come out of Confession.

What should we do before we go to the confessor?

We should imitate the Holy Apostle Peter in another respect, as well. As he realized his sin, he immediately went out of the accursed yard of the high priest where he had denied Christ. And you, brother or sister, when you want to confess and come back to God, come out of that accursed yard of sin where you have been until now and where you have denied Christ not three times, but thirty-three times...

As you prepare to go to you confessor, do not approach him without preparing beforehand. First go away from the noise of daily life, leave every other care, gather your thoughts, and make a short but heartfelt prayer. Remember all your sins and even write them down on a piece of paper, so that you will not forget them in your embarrassment, and thus remain uncleansed of them, when you go to Confession. Remember the Ten Commandments, see which one/s you have transgressed, recall whether you have committed a deadly sin, test your conscience, judge yourself, cry for your fall, and in such a mood go to the priest! Then you can be confident that you will receive true forgiveness, because a "heart that is broken and humbled, God will not despise" (Psalm 50/51: 17).

Grieving over the sins committed by us is absolutely necessary, if we want to receive God's forgiveness. Indeed, this is what repentance consists of--to shed tears, to feel deep sorrow because of one's fall. As Saint Isaac of Syria testifies, God accepts our repentant grief as an offering of repentance.

What should we do when we are with the confessor?

We have to do the following:

1)     Remember that we have come to Christ's infirmary. Here, the visible doctor is the priest, and the invisible--Christ Himself;

2)     Confess our sins without false shame;

3)     Not seek excuses for our sins;

4)     Consciously conceal absolutely nothing;

5)     Do not confess with general phrases which have no meaning;

6)     Confess briefly, but precisely, the character of each of our sins;

7)     Not reveal other people's sins, and conceal, whenever possible, the names of the persons who have tempted us or who have sinned with us through our fault;

8)     Not to boast before the priest of any virtues of ours;

9)     Not to transfer the blame on others, but only on ourselves; and

10) Have a sincere desire not to sin again.

What Should We Do When We Leave the Confessor?

After we have confessed well, we must carry out the penance (epitimia or canon) which has been given to us: bows, intensified prayer, fasting, diligent reading of God's Word (Old and New Testament), almsgiving (charity), visiting the sick, caring for orphans, etc. We must pay attention to the following three points:

1)     If you have an enmity against someone, forgive with all your heart, so that God will forgive you (cf. Matthew 6:14-15). Otherwise, your confession will be in vain.

2)     Others who have admitted in Confession that they have violated their celibacy or family honor must give up the bad road forever. They cannot love both the sin and God.

3)     Finally, if you have misappropriated another's possession, if you have robbed someone, return that which does not belong to you. Otherwise, there is no forgiveness for you.

If you blaspheme God's Name, if you deny Orthodoxy, if you are angry, if you are proud, if you envy, or commit other heavy sins--when you repent, everything will be forgiven you. Why? Because with all of these sins you offend God, and God has made the priest His representative for all these sins with which men offend Him. As God's representative, the priest can forgive you the sins against God if you repent.

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MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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GLORY BE TO GOD FOR ALL THINGS!

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KALI ANASTASI! BLESSED RESURRECTION!

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George