For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord
Jesus on the night when He was betrayed took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, “This is My Body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the Body and Blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are week and ill and some have died.
I Corinthians 11:23-30
We have reflected on Holy Communion many times over the years on the Prayer Team. Under the umbrella of where we are and where we want to be in our faith, we will make a short reflection today on the most central thing that
Orthodox Christians do, which is they receive Holy Communion. We partake of Divine nature. Christ comes in us. We touch Him, and He touches us through this sacrament. When I was a child in the 1970s and early 1980s, it was not the custom to receive Holy Communion often. I remember as a child we went only a handful of times each year-Christmas, Pascha, August 15 and our nameday. I remember asking my parents if I could receive Holy Communion before a surgery when I was 16. And I remember being somewhat relieved when I went to college and could actually fast and begin to receive more often. Now, as a priest, it is not uncommon for 80+ percent of the people in the church on Sunday to receive Holy Communion. In a parish where we have two retired priests serving many Sundays, it is quite common to see three chalices and still it takes a long time to distribute Holy Communion. Is this correct practice, for everyone to go? Why weren’t we doing this in the 1970s?
The Epistle to the Corinthians which is today’s Bible quote gives both
answers. In I Corinthians 11:28, we read “let a man examine himself,” and
in 11:29, we read that anyone partaking of Holy Communion without such
discernment “drinks judgment upon himself.” There was (and perhaps should
be) a genuine fear/awe of receiving Holy Communion. After all, in receiving
Holy Communion, we touch God.
Then the pendulum swung the other way. The focus was on 11:26, “For as
often as you eat this bread and drink the cup.” Holy Communion is something
we are encouraged to do often.
Where is the answer? It lies somewhere in between rarely and all the time.
Though I personally believe it lies closer to “all the time” than “hardly at
all.” A few reflections ago, I talked about taking rocks out of a
garden-first the obvious ones and then the small ones. For anyone who has
ever tended a garden, we know that there are going to be some rocks in every
garden, even if they are the size of a grain of rice. If one becomes
obsessed with removing all the rocks, they will never get to planting. So,
they plant, even with imperfections, and keep taking out the rocks. This is
the answer I believe to the Holy Communion dilemma-we should be receiving
Holy Communion. The entire Divine Liturgy is framed around a journey to the Eucharist. However, as we understand more deeply about our faith and this central Sacrament, we should endeavor to prepare ourselves more thoroughly to receive. We shouldn’t focus on the fear of God, without the faith and love with which we are told to draw near. Nor should we focus on faith and love and forget the healthy fear/awe/respect we should have for receiving.
What is “required” in order to receive Holy Communion?
1. Faith in Jesus Christ-this is why we confess the Creed before we
2. The physical ability and mental cognition to receive-one had to be
able to physically swallow and mentally agree to receive. This is why we
don’t offer Communion to people who are unconscious and can’t participate.
This is why we also say our name when we receive-it indicates a desire, of
our own free will, to receive Holy Communion.
3. A relationship with Jesus Christ-this is prayer. When people think
about what is required to receive Holy Communion, they almost immediately
think of fasting. There are so many things “higher on the list,” including
prayer-what good is fasting without prayer? That’s just dieting.
4. Obedience to the commandments-we can’t partake of Holy Communion if
we are living in habitual sin, or if we aren’t making at least some effort
at repentance. This is why going to confession occasionally is very
5. Reconciliation with our fellow man-it doesn’t do much good to receive
Communion if we are angry with those around us.
6. Worship at the Divine Liturgy-As we said above, Holy Communion is
offered in the context of the Divine Liturgy (unless one is sick). Dropping
in just for Holy Communion puts it out of context.
7. Fasting-which is supposed to be more about discipline than
deprivation. It is supposed to help us be obedient to the commandments, and
enhance our relationship with Jesus Christ.
There are a few reasons why Holy Communion would not be central to someone’s
a. They don’t understand why it is important.
b. They understand but get distracted with other things.
c. They understand but don’t/won’t make the proper preparations.
For most of us, it is probably a combination. It’s like that garden that
has rocks in it. For some of us, there are some big rocks that need to be
moved so we can receive Christ in the way and with the frequency that He
intended. For others, there are still rocks to remove. In either case, we
should approach with fear of God, faith, love, purpose, intentionality,
repentance and commitment to make a deeper and deeper connection with
Christ, which will naturally result in more thorough preparation.
Truthfully, I do not understand the practice of people who come to church
only once or twice a year and approach for Holy Communion. That is not
often. If we are committed to our Christian faith, then Holy Communion is
at the center, and we make it a priority to approach often, remembering the
words of Saint Paul, that each time we do, we “proclaim the Lord’s death
until He comes,” (I Corinthians 11:26) in other words, we recommit ourselves
to faith in the message and the work to live it out.
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 my 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 hope of
my salvation. (from the Preparation for Holy Communion Prayers)
Receive Holy Communion often. However, work on more thorough preparation.