There appears to be an increasing tendency among the Orthodox to “casual communion.” Many go to receive communion unprepared and unthinkingly.
We don’t like to hear about unworthiness or judgment of sin much these days, but many of our prayers, which are based on St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 11:28-29), stress the need of being prepared. “Let each one 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.”
St. Basil writes: “O Lord Jesus Christ, my God, let not the communion of Thy immaculate and life-giving mysteries be to me for condemnation nor let it make me sick in body or soul through my partaking of them unworthily …”
St. Symeon wrote: “All my sins take from me, O God of all, that with a clean heart, trembling mind and contrite spirit I may partake …”
St. John Chrysostom wrote: “… make me worthy to receive …” He also wrote: “Grant that I may partake of Thy Holy Mysteries without condemnation …” Again: “Tremble, O man, when you see the deifying Blood, for it is a coal that burns the unworthy …”
“Let not these Holy Things be to me for judgment through my being unworthy …”
To prepare yourself to receive communion, among other things, you should meditate and say many prayers. Two books, Canons for Holy Communion and Jordanville Prayer Book, have most of the preparatory prayers. Order from Holy Trinity Monastery Bookstore, PO Box 36, Jordanville, NY 13361-0036.
Quantity or Quality
Has the pendulum swung too far? The Orthodox Church is facing a new problem. A few years back, Holy Communion was offered to those attending the Divine Liturgy and few or no one accepted the invitation. In the effort to have a greater number of people accept Holy Communion, standards or rules governing the reception have been altered or eliminated. It is not unusual to read in diocesan papers on the long lines of people who formed to receive Holy Communion. But sadly, no one asks are they prepared, when was their last Confession, are they Orthodox Christians, or have they fasted according to the laws of the Church? It has been our experience to have stood at a Divine Liturgy being held in a tent, hearing people near us talking about the good breakfast they had, hearing the Orthodox explain to their non-Orthodox companion what was being done in the Liturgy and then see these same people go up “to receive.” How shocking! To counter this it would appear that a server should state prior to the invitation that only prepared Orthodox Christians may receive Holy Communion.
St. John Chrysostom is often quoted as encouraging frequent Communion. This is true, but he also said that a person must be prepared to receive.
He writes, “I observe many partaking of Christ’s Body lightly and as a matter of course rather from consideration and understanding … It must be approached each time with sincerity and purity of soul … Consider those who partook of the sacrifices under the old Covenant, how great an abstinence did they practice?
How did they conduct themselves? What did they not do? They were always purifying themselves. And do you, when you draw near the sacrifice at which the very Angels tremble, do you just do it as a matter of course? “How shall you present yourself before the judgment seat of Christ, you who presume upon His body with polluted hands and lips?
You would not presume to kiss a king with an unclean mouth, and do you kiss the King of heaven with an unclean soul? It is an outrage. “Tell me, would you choose to come to the Sacrifice with unwashed hands? No, I suppose not. But would you rather choose not to come at all, then come with soiled hands. And then, as scrupulous as you are in this little matter, do you come with soiled soul, and thus dare to touch it? And yet the mouth holds it but a short time, whereas it is dissolved entirely into the soul.
“Do you not see the holy vessels so thoroughly cleansed, so resplendent? Our souls ought to be purer than they, more holy, more brilliant. And why so? Because those vessels are made so for our sakes. They do not partake of Him that is in the, they do not perceive Him. But we do; yes truly. Now then you would not choose to make use of a soiled vessel, but do you approach with a soiled soul? Observe the vast inconsistency of the thing …”
Prior to the time of St. John Chrysostom, St. Paul wrote a letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 11:29) in which he said: “for he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s Body.” Those who teach that it is permissible to commune without fasting, confession, and spiritual preparation, who call Holy Communion a right and a privilege are in truth breaking the discipline and adherence to the Church’s Canons and Holy Traditions regarding Holy Communion.
On Receiving Communion
From time to time, it is necessary to repeat things that have been said before. This serves to remind those who have forgotten, and inform those that do not know.
From time to time people, both children and adults, present themselves for Holy Communion without proper preparation, and must be refused. It is embarrassing for the priest to have to refuse and for the person to be refused before the whole congregation.
In order to avoid this embarrassment, the following guidelines are presented.
You must be an Orthodox in good standing.
The account of Jesus’ baptism mentions his “coming up out of the water” (Matt. 3:16). That Jesus was immersed is consistent with the meaning of the Greek word translated baptism (ba’pti-sma). This comes from the word ba-pti’zo, which means “dip, immerse.”
It was sometimes used to describe the sinking of a ship. The second century writer Lucian uses a related word to describe one person drowning another: “Plunging him down so deep (ba-pti’zon-ta) that he cannot come up again.”
An important aspect of baptism is that through the immersion in water, the person to whom it is administered receives a spiritual rebirth. This time the birth is into the Family of God. God’s Family on earth is the Church, which has many members in many places. All of the members should be concerned for one another. A person baptized in the Church is especially the concern of all of us in whose church the Baptism took place. We all take on a new joy and a new responsibility each time there is a baptism in our church. For this reason, baptisms are public services so that as many members of the God’s Family as possible may be present to welcome the new member.
Others See the Divine Liturgy 1
From Athelstan Riley in A Guide to the Divine Liturgy in the East (1922).
A few hints are given below to aid the beginner in following a service which is of so unfamiliar a type that it cannot help presenting a considerable difficulty to him.
The hour at which the liturgy is celebrated varies so much in different circumstances and different countries that no rule about this can be laid down. It is, however, rarely later than ten o’clock in the morning.
There is only one liturgy in any church or chapel on the same day (the Western custom of a High Mass, supplemented by Low Masses, is quite unknown). At this all the clergy attached to the church take part, the priests con-celebrating, or assisting round the altar, in place of each celebrating his own liturgy according to Western use. (In the Eastern Church there is a permanent deaconate, and it is assumed that there will always be a deacon to assist the priest. In default of a deacon his office is performed as far as possible by the celebrant or another priest. But the Western custom of a priest wearing a deacon’s vestment and acting as a deacon is quite unknown.)
Avoid, if possible, a pontifical liturgy. This is excessively complicated and the beginner will find a simple parochial liturgy with priest, deacon, and a reader quite complicated enough.
Try to be in time for the liturgy and to note its commencement, remembering that there is usually a service somewhat analogous to our Morning Prayer before it. The deacon coming and standing before the Royal Doors and the commencement of the singing by the choir will give some sort of a clue. The end of the liturgy often melts away into some other service, but this is not of such importance.
Watch the deacon carefully. He is a very important minister, ceremonially and musically the most important. It is his business to lead the devotions of the congregation; let him lead yours.
You can hardly mistake the deacon. He wears an un-girded alb of colored brocade (not white linen), and his stole hangs down straight, back and front, from his left shoulder (except in the case of an archdeacon, who wears it a little differently). His normal place, when not inside the sanctuary with the priest, is in front of the Royal Doors. The priest remains, with few exceptions, in the sanctuary, and you do not see so much of him. His vestments are very similar to the Western Eucharistic vestments, but the chasuble has been lengthened behind and cut way in front (not, as with us, at the sides) until it bears a close resemblance to a cope.
Others See the Divine Liturgy 2
From Athelstan Riley in A Guide to the Divine Liturgy in the East (1922).
The Office of the Prothesis (Preparation) marks a definite step in the development of the liturgy. Anciently, it would seem, the Holy Gifts were prepared during the liturgy at the offertory. But at some period - about the 6th century - this preparation became a separate service before the audible part of the liturgy began. It gradually became longer and more complicated and symbolic, until it assumed its present shape in the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th. It is not usually printed in prayer books as it does not take place in the sight of the congregation, being an office for the priest and deacon alone. It is sufficient for the reader to know that the chalice carried by the priest at the Great Entrance has already been mingled, and that the paten borne on the head of the deacon contains the Eucharistic Bread divided into the memorial of Christ, called the “Holy Lamb” (and alone subsequently consecrated), and the memorials of the Blessed Virgin, the Old and New Testament saints, the living and the departed; members of the congregation bringing little loaves to church from which morsels are cut for their special remembrances. What is left of these loaves is in many places distributed after the service to the congregation as the antidoron. The Eastern Church always uses leavened bread for the Holy Communion.
An Orthodox Eastern church is divided into two main portions - the sanctuary and the nave - by a high and solid screen, called the iconostasis. This is a development from the earlier screen, or curtains, with which the altar was shrouded from very early times, dating from the great iconoclastic controversy of the 8th century, and called the iconostasis because on it are icons, or pictorial images, of Christ, the Blessed Mother, and the saints.
In the centre of this screen the Royal, or Holy, Doors give access to the Holy Table, standing in the midst of the sanctuary. On the south side of these doors is the icon of Christ, and on the north that of the Blessed Virgin. A smaller door in the screen, toward the northern end, opens on to the Table of the Prothesis, at which the Holy Gifts are prepared before the service and where they remain until the Great Entrance.
No instrumental music is permitted in the Eastern Church, and seats are almost entirely absent. The language of the services varies with the nationalities into which the 120,000,000 of the Orthodox Church are divided. But as the old Slavonic language serves the numerous Slav nations, including the Russian - Slavonic and Greek largely cover the ground.
Others See the Divine Liturgy 3
From Athelstan Riley in A Guide to the Divine Liturgy in the East (1922).
In the Holy Orthodox Church three liturgies are in use, St. Chrysostom, St. Basil, and the Presanctified. The last, which is practically a Communion added to Vespers, is said throughout Lent on Wednesday of holy Week. No Liturgy is celebrated on Good Friday.
The Liturgy of St. Basil is celebrated on all Sundays in Lent except Palm Sunday, on Holy Thursday, Easter Eve, the vigils of Christmas and Epiphany, and on the feast of St. Basil (January 1/13).
The Liturgy of St. Chrysostom served at all other times is therefore the normal liturgy.
St. Basil, from which St. Chrysostom was probably derived, hardly differs from it except in the priest’s prayers, which are longer. The Liturgy of the Presanctified is constructed on somewhat different principles. But even here there are the two Entrances, many of the prayers and litanies are the same as in St. Chrysostom, and when a person has mastered the latter, and bears in mind that the Presanctified is a Communion service without a consecration he will not find himself wholly at a loss. The Great Entrance in the Presanctified is the procession, not of unconsecrated bread and wine, but of the Reserved Sacrament. Because of this the priest carries it, the deacon walks backwards, censing, while the choir chants in the place of the Cherubim Hymn: “Now the Heavenly Hosts minister invisibly with us, for, lo! the King of Glory is borne in. Behold the Mystic Sacrifice having been perfected is attended by angels. With faith and love let us approach that we may be partakers of life eternal.”
The Liturgy of St. Chrysostom as it stands today is hardly the work of the great bishop whose name it bears. We have certain liturgical references in St. Chrysostom’s writings to the rites used in Constantinople, and the portions he notes are still in use. The Liturgy of St. Basil is almost certainly earlier and the work of Basil himself. An old rite of some kind was in existence at Constantinople from the foundation of the sea; St. Chrysostom may have assimilated it to St. Basil, so that the two liturgies today are very closely allied. From time to time developments and accretions have occurred, the chief of which we are able to trace.
Unlike the (Pre-Vatican) Roman Liturgy, which is evidently a composite rite, showing what in geological language may be termed “faults,” the great Eastern Liturgy has grown like a living organism; as a plant develops from a sapling into a majestic tree, so this rite has developed in language and ceremony until it has become the splendid service we can witness today. In the perfection and balance of its parts - language, ceremony, and music - it is doubtful whether anything exists in the world so beautiful, so powerful in its appeal to the aesthetic sense of mankind, as the Eastern Liturgy as celebrated in the churches of Russia. Russia in particular, because the Russian people are very highly endowed with musical gifts and with religious fervor.
And, if the old chroniclers are to be believed, it was the celebration of the Liturgy of St. Chrysostom in the Great Church of Constantinople which converted Russia. The envoys of the Grand Duke Vladimir, sent to the West to search for a new religion, were present at the celebration of the Eucharist by the Patriarch in the presence of the Emperor in St. Sophia. In their return to Kieff they reported: “We no longer knew whether we were on earth or in heaven, we saw such beauty and magnificence that we know not how to tell it,” and the result was the baptism of Vladimir and his people en masse in the river Dnieper a thousand years ago.
In the very earliest times of Christianity, persons officiating in a church used to wear, while performing divine services, the same kind of garments as those worn by laymen. But a feeling of reverence prompted them to appear at the common worship in clean, festive garments.
The favorite color for such occasions was white, in token that church service demands holiness and purity. The garments for the celebrants were provided by the community, and they were kept in secret places and given out to the celebrants when they prepared for the services. Such is the origin of church vestments or holy garments.
In the course of time the cut of laymen’s garments changed; various peoples adopted new fashions, only the cut of church vestments, used while officiating in divine services, remained unaltered and universally the same, in token of the unity and immutable nature of the faith and as an allusion to the qualities demanded of the ministers of the Church.
All these garments were, from the earliest times, decorated with crosses to distinguish them from ordinary garments.
Archpriest D. Sokoloff
The closest prayer in the ordination of a priest in the Orthodox Church to what might correspond to a “charge” is this: “Do thou, Lord fill with the gift of Thy Holy Spirit this man whom it has pleased Thee to advance to the degree of Priest; that he may be worthy to stand in innocence before Thine Altar; to proclaim the Gospel of Thy kingdom; to minister the word of Thy truth; to offer unto Thee spiritual gifts and sacrifices; to renew Thy people through the laver of regeneration. That when he shall go to meet Thee, at the Second Coming of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, Thine Only-Begotten Son, he may receive the reward of a good steward in the degree committed unto him, through the plenitude of Thy goodness.”
You may have wondered why the Holy Doors are opened and closed so many times during the Divine Services and why the curtains behind the Doors are pulled at some times and not others when the Doors are closed. The opening and closing at various services signify several things: sometimes the opening of the gates of Paradise; sometimes the throwing open of the entrance into the kingdom of Heaven. The entrances and exits through it of the clergy symbolize the progress to and from those places where the Saviour of the world abides; since the priest, at different times, represents the Saviour Himself or the Angel of God proclaiming the Resurrection of Christ; while the Deacon represents the Angel of the Lord, or John the Baptist.
Receiving Holy Communion
Most of us know that we must prepare for the receiving of Holy Communion by prayer, fasting and penitence. But what about our behavior after receiving this Mystery?
A priest in the Altar always reads the Paschal hymn from the Ninth Canticle of the Canon: "O great and holiest Pascha, Christ, O wisdom, Word and power of God, grant that we may more perfectly partake of Thee in the unending day of Thy Kingdom." He also reads the Post-Communion prayers before he leaves the altar.
We should also read the Post-Communion prayers either in the church or when we arrive at home. Besides this, anyone who receives the Holy Mysteries should spend the rest of the day quietly and peacefully meditating because their soul is particularly sensitive to spiritual things.
The Laying on of Hands in Confession
After the priest hears your confession, and sometimes from the very beginning, he places his stole upon your head. Upon this he places his left hand, making the sign of the cross with his right hand. Meanwhile, he says the prayer of absolution or forgiveness.
In the Gospels we see that the tough of Jesus’ hand was often a part of the healing process of both body and soul. How many instances are there when he touched someone and then said: "Go, your sins are forgiven you.'?
The Apostles continued using touch or laying on of hands as a sign of healing both body and soul. The practice has continued in the Orthodox Church in many of the sacraments.
It is interesting to note that this practice of touching is being encouraged in the medical world. Doctors and nurses are being told to touch their patients so that the patients feel that they care. Our mothers knew that touch was important. How many times did she kiss our bruises and make them well?
The touch of a priest in the Sacrament of Penance makes the compassionate Christ present healing the sickness of the soul of the one who has come to confession.