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.
PREPARING TO RECEIVE HOLY COMMUNION
The most important element in the spiritual renewal of the Orthodox Christian is the Sacrament of Holy Communion. It is the one sacrament that transcends all other sacraments. When we receive Holy Communion we receive Jesus Himself into us. 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 Greek word for Thanksgiving is "Eucharisto". We refer to Holy Communion as "the Eucharist" and offer thanksgiving to God for this great Mystery whereby God not only sanctifies the bread and wine but also changes them into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
The bread and wine do not change into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ until the blessing and thanksgiving has been completed. This happens at every Divine Liturgy. "We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we give thanks to Thee, O Lord, and we pray to Thee, O Our God". While the choir or chanters sing the above him, the Priest prays for the descent of the Holy Spirit, Who transforms the elements (consecration) on the altar into the Holy Body and Precious Blood of Christ.
"Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood you have no life in you...For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed" (St. John 6:53, 55).
Therefore, if receiving the Divine Eucharist is receiving Jesus, we must take care to approach the Eucharist in a proper manner. The way we approach this awesome Mystery determines whether our participation will be a blessing in our lives, or whether we are condemning ourselves.
Fasting is a spiritual discipline which was and is intended to enhance our participation in the Divine Eucharist - it is not to be seen as an excuse to keep away from the Chalice.
Fasting is a discipline which is not restricted only to food. It is more than simply not eating. It is also not lying, stealing, cheating, committing adultery, gossiping, quarreling etc. We must abstain from all forms of evil. To think that by only setting a few days aside to omit certain foods from our diet makes us worthy to receive the Divine Eucharist is to be spiritually naive.
It is not uncommon to hear Orthodox Christians say they are fasting on Wednesday and Friday because they plan to take Holy Communion at Sunday Liturgy. In reality, the practice of Wednesday and Friday fasting has never been purposefully linked to participation in the Divine Eucharist. Orthodox Christians are required to fast on those two days of the week regardless if they are going to take Holy Communion or not. [The Holy Apostles Sixty-Ninth Canon of the Church]. This same Canon requires that fasting be maintained throughout Great Lent also. No mention is made of the Divine Eucharist. In other words, regular fasting must be a way of life.
Many Orthodox Christians extend the Wednesday and Friday fast to Saturday. They reason that if they fast on Wednesday and Friday in preparation for the Divine Eucharist on Sunday, it does not seem right not to fast on Saturday, the day prior to receiving Holy Communion. However, in so doing, they violate the Sixty-fourth Canon of the Holy Apostles which specifically forbids ever fasting on Saturday, the day God rested after creation. Exceptions to the holy Canon - Holy Saturday and a few other major feastdays should they fall on a Saturday.
The Eucharistic Fast involves total abstinence from any food or drink in the morning prior to receiving the Divine Eucharist. If therefore, you keep the Divine Eucharistic Fast, and there exists no moral reason for you to stay away from the Chalice, you become obligated to come forward and receive Christ as He is offered at the Liturgy.
To assert that one has not fasted on the previous Wednesday and Friday and therefore cannot come forward for Holy Communion, is, by itself, an insufficient cause to abstain from the Eucharist.
So strongly did the Church feel about this that we find in the Ninth Apostolic Canon of the Holy Apostles, the following: "All those 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". The early Orthodox Christians attended the Divine Liturgy for one reason - the Eucharist.
Saint John Cassion, writes, "We must not avoid Communion because we deem ourselves to be sinful. We must approach it more often for the healing of the soul but with much humility and faith considering ourselves unworthy. Otherwise, it is impossible to receive Communion once a year, as certain people do such people manifest pride rather than humility for when they receive, they think of themselves as worthy."
Fasting was never intended to be a barrier to keep us from Christ, but a bridge to lead us to fuller participation in the life of Christ. (Source: By Father Abramis from The Truth, March 2004, v. 18/3, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia)
(To be continued)
"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!" -- Saint John Chrysostomos
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God