Receiving Holy Communion in the Orthodox Church

My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ,
Christ is in our midst! He was, is, and ever shall be. Ο Χριστός εν τω μέσω ημών! Και ήν και έστι και έσται.

Even after 47 years in the Priesthood I am still surprised and deeply saddened by "Orthodox" Christians who are concerned about the state of the Holy Eucharist. In other words they are outright afraid of receiving Holy Communion from the same chalice and by the same communion spoon. Some run to be first so that they could avoid catching germs or something else. Others have gone even beyond that and treat the Precious Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as though it is ordinary bread and wine. Others analyze how it tastes.

What is the Holy and Divine Eucharist?

During the Divine Liturgy we pray and ask God to change what the bread and wine are by nature, into the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. So great is this Mystery that we are left without any possible response which would express what God has done. Therefore we offer the only answer we can: Thank you! The Holy Bible tell us, in the Gospel of Saint Matthew 26:26-28, that Jesus, at the Mystical Supper, took bread, blessed it, distributed it, and then said, "take eat; this is My Body." Our Lord went on to the Cup saying, "drink from it, all of you; for this is My Blood..." This is not mere symbolism even though Jesus equates Himself with other things (Door in St. John 10:9; Vine in St. John 10:14, and so on). Only in the Divine Eucharist do we see a material element as being referred to as something other than it appears to be. Prior to the blessing and the giving of thanks the elements were ordinary bread and wine. It was only after Jesus consecrated them that the two elements became in reality the Body and Blood of Our Lord. To this day, at every Divine Liturgy, the wine and bread are not considered to be the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ until the blessing and thanksgiving have been completed. Jesus tells us that He is the bread (manna) from Heaven (St. John 6:35, 38). He also said to eat of this "New Bread" meant never seeing death (vv. 49-50). He says "...unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you" (v.53). And, as if to settle completely the issue, Jesus adds, "for my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed" (v.55). Those who heard these words understood completely what Christ meant. "Many of His disciples, when they heard it said, 'This is a hard saying: who can listen to it?" Furthermore, so much did this teaching shock the hearers that we are told that from the time many of Jesus' Disciples no longer followed Him (v.66). The fact of the matter is that to this day there are still some who find this a difficult teaching to comprehend and refuse to accept it. Is our criterion for acceptance of Jesus' teaching based on our ability to comprehend what He tells us or on our faith in His authority as God? In this age of rationalism it is not popular to exhibit in anything that cannot be comprehended by the mind (intellect). What so many contemporary Christians have forgotten is that our criterion for believing anything as true followers of Christ is the authority of our Lord--not our capability to comprehend what He has done or said. In fact, Saint Paul refers to the Holy Eucharist as the Body and Blood of Christ and goes so far to suggest that an improper understanding of the Holy Eucharist can harm our health and could even lead to death (1 Corinthians 11:27-30). Therefore, if receiving the Holy Eucharist is receiving Jesus Christ, we must take care to approach Holy Communion in proper fashion, i.e., "With the fear of God, with faith and love draw near."

Prayers Before Holy Communion

I believe and confess, Lord that You are truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, Who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first. I also believe that this truly Your pure Body and that this is truly Your Precious Blood. Therefore, I pray to You, have mercy upon me, and forgive my transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, in word and deed, known and unknown. And make me worthy without condemnation to partake of Your pure Mysteries for the forgiveness of sins and for life eternal. Amen.

Loving Master, Lord Jesus Christ, my God, let not these Holy Gifts be to my condemnation because of my unworthiness, but for the cleansing and sanctification of soul and body and the pledge of the future life and Kingdom. It is good for me to cling to God and to place in Him the hop of my salvation. Receive me today, Son of God, as a partaker of Your Mystical Supper. I will not reveal Your mystery to Your adversaries. Nor will I give You a kiss as did Judas. But as the thief I confess to You: Lord, remember me in Your Kingdom.

"Behold, I approach for Holy Communion, O Creator, burn me not as I partake, For Thou art Fire which burns the unworthy, Wherefore do Thou cleanse me from every stain."

Prayers after Holy Communion

Saint Basil the Great:

I thank You, Christ and Master our God, King of the ages and Creator of all things, for all the good gifts You have given me, and especially for the participation in Your pure and Life-Giving Mysteries. I pray You, therefore, good and loving Lord, keep me under Your protection and under the shadow of Your wings. Grant that to my last breath I may, with a pure conscience, partake worthily of Your Gifts for the forgiveness of sins and for eternal life. For You are the Bread of Life, the Source of Holiness, the Giver of all good things, and to You we give glory, with the Fathers and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.

+++

The way we approach this awesome Mystery determines whether our participation will be a blessing in our lives, or whether we are condemning ourselves.

As your Priest I urge all of you to think seriously before you line up to receive Holy Communion. Ask yourself why am I about the receive Holy Communion? What is the purpose? Do I really believe that this is indeed the Very Body and Blood of my Lord Christ? Am I doing it out of habit or faith? Have I prepared myself to receive Holy Communion through fasting, prayer and confession?

If one is not prepared spiritually, and does not believe that the Holy Eucharist is Christ, he or she must not receive Holy Communion. If one fears he or she may become ill by receiving Holy Communion, he or she must not receive Holy Communion. If one is not an Orthodox Christian, he or she, must not receive Holy Communion. If one is filled with hatred and anger, he or she, must not receive Holy Communion. Why?

"But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's Body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep" (literally, "are dead" 1 Corinthians 11:30).

Frequency of Participation

The Divine Liturgy is centered around the partaking of the Holy Eucharist. This is the main purpose of the Divine Liturgy. The 9th Apostolic Canon says, "All the faithful who enter and listen to the Scripture, but do not stay for prayer and Holy Communion must be excommunicated on the grounds that they are causing the Church a breach of order." How often do you sin? If you are honest with yourself as a Christian, you will acknowledge that you sin constantly. For the Christian, if sin is a part of one's life, so too, must forgiveness be a part of our life. "If we say we have no sin, we decieve ourselves and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). It is therefore absolutely necessary, that we repent of our sin or sins, and participate in the Mystery of Repentance and Confession. As the Holy Fathers state, "it is not the sin that condemns one, but the unwillingness to repent of it." The frequency of receiving Holy Communion is determined by ones Father Confessor or Spiritual Father and not by the individual Orthodox Christian.

In Christ's Divine Diakonia,

+Father George

Every practicing Orthodox Christian prepares through fasting, prayer, Holy Confession, reconciliation with your enemies, obedience to your spiritual Father, etc.