On Receiving Communion

On Receiving Communion

With Fear of God and Faith and Love Draw Near

These are the words proclaimed by the priest as he translates the holy Gifts from the altar table to the faithful. They are instructive for each us, for they both are a command and reveal the disposition with which we commune the holy Gifts.

I will address the command first – “Draw Near.” Many holy fathers encourage frequent communion as it is the path to repentance, illumination, and deification par excellence. Saint John Chrysostom writes,

I entreat you: a royal table is set before you, angels minister at that table, the King Himself is there, and yet, you take no account of it. Are your garments clean? Then fall down and partake! For everyone who does not partake of the mysteries is standing here in shameless falsity. When you behold the curtain drawn, then imagine the heavens are let down from above, and that the angels arc descending! Why stay at liturgy and yet not partake of the table? I am unworthy, you say. Then you are also unworthy of that communion you also have in prayer. Come!

Echoing the teaching of Saint John, Saint Makarios of Corinth exhorts the faithful:

Some persons say: “Look, we fulfill the commandment of the Lord, for we commune two or three times a year, and this is enough to justify us.” We reply that this is good and beneficial, but to commune more often is much better. For the more one approaches the light, the more one is illumined; and the more one approaches fire, the more one is warmed; the more one approaches holiness, the more one is sanctified; similarly, the more one approaches God through Communion, the more one is enlightened, warmed and sanctified. My brother or sister, if you are worthy to commune two or three times a year, you are worthy to commune more often, as St John Chrysostom teaches.

Reception of the holy Gifts is an indispensable part of our spiritual journey. However, the manner in which we commune and our disposition are equally important. We should all be cognizant of the fact that no one is worthy to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. No one has an entitlement to it. Our Lord chose to share it with His disciples and, through His priests, He chooses to distribute it to the faithful.

We must avoid a legalistic or formalistic approach to the reception of holy Communion. Our preparation must acknowledge that we are preparing to receive the King of kings and the Lord of lords. We are preparing to receive into our being the very Savior Himself. This fact must not be approached lightly or in a cavalier fashion. Our attitude at the outset of our preparation must be that of the Publican and not the Pharisee. “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner” is a good foundational starting point.

Our preparation should be concrete and not based on feelings or emotions. It should include fasting (according to the mandates set forth by one’s spiritual father and the canons of the Church) as well as a good confession.

The Sacrament of Confession is offered by the pastor of the parish. The pastor can allow another canonical priest to hear his parishioners’ confession, provided that he knows where the parishioner is going, and why the parishioner is going to another priest. If a parishioner requests

 

to have another priest hear their confession, the pastor should sit with them and find out why. In many cases, the priest does not hear the confession of his wife or his children. In many cases the pastor does not hear the confession of his assistant priest, his deacon, or someone who works in his office. I think you can understand why our pastors offer such people the liberty of going to someone else. It does not relieve the pastor’s responsibility for praying for these people and making sure they are repenting for their sins. In some cases, parishioners ask to go to someone different because they’re having a problem with their pastor. I insist that they go and sit down with the pastor of the parish and make sure that there is no malice or hatred for the priest, or for anyone else, for that matter. The pastor will then decide whether or not going to another priest will be the best possible medicine for his parishioner’s spiritual illness. Confession and Communion are not to be distributed like bread and fish. They are to be distributed for the salvation of our souls.

The Confession and preparation for the Body and Blood of Christ goes on the entire week. The meetings that we have in our churches should only be conducted in the pursuit of saving our souls and the souls of all those that we encounter. It is for this reason that our pastors should be at all organizational meetings and committee meetings. They have to be intricately involved in their planning. The bottom line for everything we do must be the salvation of our souls. In some instances, there will be parishioners who will come to confession and Communion rarely during the year. In some traditions this is because of their great piety. Indeed, there are people who do not eat or drink for days before they take the Eucharist. Their confession before taking the Eucharist is intense. It is for this reason that their participation in these sacraments is sometimes limited. On the other hand, there are people that simply take confession and the Eucharist once a year so that they can maintain their church membership. Their church membership, to them, is of no greater importance than their citizenship of their city, state, or country. This is a sin. We need to guard against this sin. The holy prophet Joel reminds the Israelites, “And rend your heart and not your garments. Now return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness” (Joel 2:13).

The faithful should be serious about their participation in these sacraments. They should seriously hunger and thirst for the Body and Blood of Christ for the remission of their sins.

The merciful Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is disposed to offer us an abundant life in Him if we commune frequently with the proper disposition of repentance, but this requires our full participation and struggle against sin. Repentance is not simply something we consider during Great Lent but something to be practiced every day of our lives. Elder Joseph the Hesychast repeatedly told his spiritual children that there is no end to repentance. Any malice or hatred toward anyone for any reason should never reside in our hearts. We must root it out through prayer and repentance. A beneficial practice in this regard is to begin to pray for those for whom we harbor such thoughts or feelings. There are no exceptions, excuses, or justifications that can warrant such thoughts or feelings toward our brothers and sisters.

As He was preparing to depart this world, Jesus told His disciples, “I will be with you always, until the end of the age. . .” He told His disciples that He would send a Comforter, the Spirit of Truth to guide them and protect them. They prepared earnestly and intensely for the advent of the Holy Spirit. Our preparation for communion with the triune God should be no less earnest or intense.

May God be with you and the Most Holy Theotokos protect you always!

By Bishop THOMAS (Joseph), Peter Schweitzer, and Marshall Goodge