Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
Welcome to The Daily Prayer Team messages, each day includes a passage of scripture, a reflection and a prayer. Sponsored by Saint John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
For as often as you eat this Bread and drink the Cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. I Corinthians 11:26
Unlike other churches which separate baptism, confirmation and first Communion, the Orthodox Church does all three at the same time. A person is washed in the water of baptism, sealed with the Holy Spirit in Chrismation, and now as a “full member” of the Body of Christ (the Church), they receive the best benefit of belonging to the Church, Holy Communion.
If Baptism and Chrismation are the vehicles by which we are initiated into the Body of Christ, Holy Communion is what sustains us in our Christian life. One could argue that the Baptismal Font is a larger version of the Chalice from which we receive Communion, or that the Chalice is a smaller version of the Baptismal Font. Either way, they are connected. Baptism, as we have discussed, is not an end, but a beginning. Holy Communion is an important means to the ultimate end, salvation. Because in Holy Communion, we partake of Christ throughout our lives, in preparation for being with Him for eternal life.
I heard it said recently that the reason the Christ instituted the Eucharist was that it was a way we could receive Him that we can handle. If Christ walked through the door of our offices, our homes, even our church, we’d duck and cover in fright. We couldn’t handle seeing Him face to face.
If you don’t understand this, think of the sun. None of us can look at the sun, let alone touch it. We can experience the warmth of the sun, and stand in its light, but we can’t handle the sun in its essence.
Holy Communion works in the same way. We believe that the bread and wine we offer in the Divine Liturgy becomes the Body and the Blood of Christ. We can handle looking at it and tasting it—it doesn’t eviscerate us.
We partake of Holy Communion for many reasons. First, Christ told us to when He instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper. Second, when we receive Communion, we have Christ in us in a tangible way. Third, when we receive Communion, we are reaffirming our faith, that we believe in Christ. And fourth, we are reaffirming our baptismal pledge. This is why we offer our name, the name we were given at baptism, when we approach to commune.
How should we partake? What is required? Many people view fasting as the not only a requirement in order to receive Holy Communion, but for some, the only requirement. It is true that we are supposed to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays whether we are going to receive Communion or not. Fasting is not about deprivation or suffering but about gaining control of our desire to eat certain foods so that we can get control of other behaviors that try to control us—anger, lust, greed, power, ego, and others—so that we can focus more clearly on God. But fasting is not the most important “requirement” to receive Holy Communion. First and foremost, we must be baptized as an Orthodox Christian. Second, we must have a relationship with God through prayer. If all we do is fast without prayer, that is called dieting. Third, we must live a life that is in line with the commandments of God. It doesn’t to any good to fast from food if we are slaves to immorality. Fourth, we must be reconciled to our fellow man. It doesn’t do any good to go for Holy Communion if we are angry with others. Fifth, we should worship at the Divine Liturgy at which we are going to receive. Holy Communion is to be received in the context of the Divine Liturgy, meaning that we should be present for the entire Divine Liturgy—We should hear the greeting (“Blessed is the Kingdom”), offer the responses to the petitions, sing the hymns, hear the Scriptures, recite the Creed, etc. It is not appropriate to walk in a few minutes before Holy Communion and then receive. And THEN comes fasting. Fasting does not supersede these other “requirements.”
How often should we receive? The simple answer is, as often as we can be prepared. No one is ever “worthy” to receive, we should ever walk into the Divine Liturgy with a sense of entitlement. Rather, we should prepare ourselves to receive Christ in this magnificent Gift that He offers us—Himself. The intention of Christ is for us to receive often, so that we have Him in us often, and so that our focus is in Him often.
When we received Holy Communion for the first time on the day of our baptism, we began a lifelong journey not only to Christ, but with Christ and in Christ. And if we are journeying with Christ and in Christ, we should receive Christ in us as often as we can, in order to be sustained, encouraged, focused, and joyful in the journey.
I love the Lord, because He has heard my voice and my supplications. Because He inclined His ear to me, therefore I will call on Him as long as I live. The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the Lord: “O Lord, I beseech Thee, save my life!” Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful. The Lord preserves the simple; when I was brought low, He saved me. Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you. For Thou hast delivered my soul from death, my eyes form tears, my feet from stumbling; I walk before the Lord in the land of the living. I kept my faith, even when I said, “I am greatly afflicted”; I said in my consternation, “men are all a vain hope.” What shall I render to the Lord for all His bounty to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. O Lord, I am Thy servant; I am Thy servant, the son of Thy handmaid. Thou hast loosed my bonds. I will offer to Thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the house of the Lord, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the Lord! Psalm 116
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The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
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