I Believe, Lord, and Confess

I Believe, Lord, and Confess

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Martha said to Jesus, “Yes, Lord; I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, He who is coming into the world.”  John 11:27

 

Good morning Prayer Team!

Holy Communion is awesome!  How ordinary substances of bread and wine can be transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ is mysterious, mystical and profound.  How an ordinary human being can touch THE Body and THE Blood of Christ and not be eviscerated by the experience is truly AWE-some.  It is an experience that should fill one with awe and wonder.

Sometimes I fear that because we do it so often, it becomes routine.  I remember once confessing to my Spiritual Father that my mind wanders in church.  He comforted me with the notion that every mind wanders in church.  This is why it is good that the Liturgy is long and complete so that even if our minds are not engaged in the service one hundred percent of the time, there are many powerful moments and powerful events that will stir the heart and prepare it for its encounter with the Lord through Holy Communion.

In an earlier reflection, I wrote on the “requirements” for Holy Communion—faith, a relationship with Christ through a prayer life, moral living, reconciliation with others, worship at the Divine Liturgy and fasting.  The decision to receive Communion is one that should be made well in advance of the Divine Liturgy.  Since I no longer make a choice whether to receive or not (a priest receives Communion at every Divine Liturgy), I have to think back to before I was a priest to remember what it was like to make this choice.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I began receiving Communion on a regular basis.  I also began fasting on a regular basis as well.  I hadn’t yet made the connection that fasting should be done on Wednesdays and Fridays regardless of whether one was going to receive Communion.  So, I would plan from Tuesday whether or not I was going to receive the following Sunday.  I would keep the fast and try to prepare myself as best I could to receive Holy Communion.

Now, in addition to all of the other “requirements” one should meet in preparation for Holy Communion, there are “pre-Communion Prayers” that are to be offered.  Most people are not familiar with the fact that there is a “canon” of preparation for Holy Communion that should be offered the night before receiving or the morning of receiving before coming to church.  This “canon” consists of dozens of prayers and hymns.  The last eight of these prayers are offered by the celebrant prior to his receiving Communion.  In some parishes, these prayers are read aloud by all the people.  In some churches, the celebrant offers them loud enough to be heard by all.  And in other churches, they are offered quietly by the celebrant and are unheard by the people.

I’ve heard many debates over where and how these prayers should be offered.  I also know that most people do not know about the canon of Communion and that most who do are not praying that.  What I do believe, however, is that these eight prayers prior to receiving Communion are very important and they are also very personal.  Each person receiving Communion should offer them.  So, if you are in a church where the prayers are offered aloud, read along.  If you are in a church where the celebrant is offering them so that you can hear them, then listen attentively.  And if you are in a church where you do not hear them, pray them yourself, either before you go to Liturgy, or while the priest is preparing to distribute Communion.

The eight prayers appear below in italics, with some brief commentary.  (These prayers are from the 2016 translation of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom by the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Seminary Press.)

I believe and confess, Lord, that You are truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, Who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first. I also believe that this is truly Your pure Body and that this is truly Your precious Blood. Therefore, I pray to You, have mercy upon me, and forgive my transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, in word and deed, in knowledge or in ignorance. And make me worthy, without condemnation, to partake of Your pure Mysteries for the remission of sins and for eternal life. Amen.

If the first “requirement” in order to receive Holy Communion is faith, the first statements of these prayers are statements of faith—a belief in Christ, and a belief in the power of the Holy Spirit to consecrate ordinary gifts of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.  Coupled with these statements of faith are statements of contrition—first, the humble statement of seeing oneself as the first among sinners.  Second, there is an asking of forgiveness for all sins, including even sins of ignorance, the unknown sins.  And third, there is an acknowledgement that to receive Communion is an act of mercy, that we do not want the Lord to condemn us for what we are about to do.

Behold, I approach for Divine Communion.  O Maker, burn me not as I partake.  For You are fire consuming the unworthy.  But cleanse me from every stain.

In Exodus 3, we read the account of Moses encountering the burning bush.  In Exodus 3:2, we read “And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and lo, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.”  The prayer asks that we, like the burning bush, be allowed to touch the Divine God but not be burned.

O Son of God, receive me today as a partaker of Your mystical supper. For I will not speak of the mystery to Your enemies, nor will I give You a kiss, as did Judas. But like the thief, I confess to You: Remember me, Lord, in Your Kingdom.

There is a contrast between Judas and the repentant thief on the Cross.  Judas, the disciple, the member of Christ’s inner circle, partook of fellowship with Christ and yet he betrayed Christ.  And not only did he betray Christ, he did it with a kiss, a sign of affection.  The thief, on the other hand, had lived an awful life and was dying on a cross as punishment.  In his dying moments, he asked Jesus to remember him.  He found faith, repentance, forgiveness and salvation in his last moments.  The lesson for us is that we cannot be like Judas, enjoying the divine fellowship of Holy Communion and then betraying the Lord with how we live our lives.  We have to be like the thief, continually seeking repentance.

Tremble, O man, as you behold the divine Blood.  It is a burning coal that sears the unworthy.  The Body of God both deifies and nourishes me.  It deifies the Spirit and wondrously nourishes the mind. 

In Isaiah 6, we read about Isaiah’s vision of God in the temple.  He saw the Lord sitting on a throne.  He saw the Seraphim, the angels of God, standing above the throne.  Then one of the Seraphim flew to him, and touched his mouth with a burning coal which he had taken from the altar.  And Isaiah was not harmed.  (More on this vision in a few future reflection).  So, we see the image of Christ as a fiery coal, which we should be very respectful of.  Imagine putting a burning coal in your mouth!  You would be burned, if not killed.  So it is with the Body of Christ, it will burn the unworthy, but for the one who approaches with faith, the Body of God deifies and nourishes the Spirit and the mind.

You have smitten me with yearning, O Christ, and by Your divine eros You have changed me. But burn up with spiritual fire my sins, and grant me to be filled with delight in You, so that, leaping for joy, I may magnify, O Good One, Your two comings.

Our hope in receiving Communion is that our sins will be “burned up” but not ourselves.  Also, Holy Communion should not only bring awe but it should bring joy to our spirits.

How shall I, who am unworthy, enter into the splendor of Your saints? If I should dare to enter into the bridal chamber, my vesture will condemn me, since it is not a wedding garment; and being bound up, I shall be cast out by the angels. Cleanse, O Lord, the filth of my soul, and save me, as You are the one Who loves mankind. In Your love, Lord, cleanse my soul, and save me.

The Parable of the Great Banquet is told both in the Gospels of Matthew (22:1-13) and Luke (14:16-24).  In each case, a man was giving a marriage feast for his son and invited guests to come in.  In each case, the invited guests make excuses not to come and the man is angry with his guests who turned him down.  He asked his servants to go out and find everyone to invite them to the banquet.  In Matthew’s account, the master giving the feast finds a man who had no wedding garment at the banquet, and ordered him cast out of the banquet.  The lesson of this parable is that all are invited to the banquet (salvation) and we should not make excuses or turn down the invitation.  However, accepting the invitation comes with an expectation to dress appropriately, meaning to clothe our souls with faith and with the things of faith—repentance, humility, charity, etc.

Master Who loves mankind, Lord Jesus Christ, my God, let not these Holy Gifts be to my judgment because I am unworthy, but rather for the purification and sanctification of both soul and body and the pledge of the life and Kingdom to come. It is good for me to cleave unto God and to place in Him the hope of my salvation.

This prayer, again acknowledges the majesty of God, that He is our Master and that He is the hope of our salvation.  And it asks that even though we are unworthy, that He allow us to partake of Him regardless, “for the purification and sanctification of both soul and body and the pledge of the life and Kingdom to come.”  This again reminds us of our future hope and life purpose.

The last of the prayers is the third prayer, repeated for emphasis, which will serve as today’s prayer:

O Son of God, receive me today as a partaker of Your mystical supper. For I will not speak of the mystery to Your enemies, nor will I give You a kiss, as did Judas. But like the thief, I confess to You: Remember me, Lord, in Your Kingdom.

Pray the Communion Prayers before each time you receive Holy Communion.

 

+Fr. Stavros

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Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

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. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros 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