Who Can and Cannot Receive Holy Communion in the Orthodox Church

Beloved in Christ,

As we approach Palm Sunday and Great and Holy Week we are reminded that not everyone is eligible to receive Holy Communion or any of the other Mysteries (Sacraments) i.e., Holy Unction.

"For Orthodox Christians, the Holy Eucharist (Holy Communion) is a visible sign of unity; to receive the Holy Eucharist in a community to which one does not belong is wrong. If one does not accept all that the Orthodox Christian Church believes and teaches and worship, 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 Christians see this as a sign that the Orthodox Church excludes non-Orthodox Christians from the Holy Eucharist, in reality the opposite is true. Because a non-Orthodox individual has chosen not to embrace that Orthodox Christianity holds, the non-Orthodox individual makes it impossible for an Orthodox Priest to offer him/her Holy Communion. It is not so much a matter of Orthodoxy excluding non-Orthodox as it is the non-Orthodox person making it impossible for the Orthodox 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 Church teaches, why haven't you become an Orthodox Christian?"

I sincerely request that if your spouse is a non-Orthodox Christian that you do not encourage him/her to attempt to receive the sacraments in our church. There is no reason to embarrass your spouse, when he/she may be denied of the sacrament in front of the congregation.

All the Sacraments are reserved for Orthodox Christians only.

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THE SACRAMENTS CANNOT BE ADMINISTERED TO...

In the case where an Orthodox Christian is obviously in the final moments of his/her earthly life, the Orthodox Church has special prayers for the "separation of soul and body." Thus, it is clear that the sacrament of Holy Unction (anointing with Holy Oil) is for the sick-both the physically and spiritually ill and is not reserved for the moment of death. The Mystery (Sacrament) of Holy Unction is not the so called "last rites" (a tradition ofRoman Catholicism) as is sometimes thought; the Sacrament of the anointing itself in no way indicates that it should be administered merely in "extreme" cases. Holy Unction is the Mystery of the spiritual and physical healing of a sick person whatever the nature or the gravity of the illness may be.

It is very important for relatives of a very seriously ill member of their family to understand that the Sacraments cannot be forced upon their family member when he or she is not away and alert and know what they are about to receive. It is necessary, however, for the relatives of the individual, to contact their parish priest before he/she reaches that unresponsive stage or condition, so that they will be true participants and to truly receive the redeeming grace of God.

For the seriously ill Orthodox Christian who is at risk of dying, the appropriate Sacrament while he or she is still alert and aware, is the Mystery (Sacrament) of Repentance/Confession. Through this sacrament the Christian receive forgiveness and is reconciled to the Creator and Almighty God.

The Mysteries (Sacraments) of the Church do not work magically! There is a spiritual preparation that one needs to adhere to, and the sick person must feel the need to receive them and to personally request them of their priest. The relatives cannot assume to know what their sick relative wants or not, when it comes to the sacraments. Holy Communion, Holy Unction, is not a kind of a pill that must be taken involuntarily. Receiving the sacraments is a conscious act of faith! A person who is unconscious is not able to make that decision!

Do not put your priest in the difficult and very delicate position to deny administering the sacrament to your unconscious relative, when you know that he is not able to do so. Do not insist!

With agape in Christ,
+Father George