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
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 any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. I Corinthians 11: 27-29 (From the Epistle of the Vesperal Liturgy Holy Thursday Morning) Thursday of the Third Week of Lent
Good morning Prayer Team!
Our participation in Holy Communion is not to be taken lightly. Touching the Divine God through Holy Communion is the most intimate and most holy thing we can do in our lives. In order to receive Communion, we must be “prepared.” Saint Paul calls us to “examine” ourselves before receiving Communion.
I’m often asked how frequently people should receive Communion. No one is “worthy” to receive Holy Communion, ever. There is never a day when one should walk into the church and think “I deserve Communion today.” That’s why we also do not use the verb “take” in regards to Communion. Yes, plenty of people say “I’m going to take Communion,” but this is not correct verbiage in regards to partaking. We “take” things out of a sense of entitlement. We “receive” Holy Communion as a gift from God, a gift of which NONE of us is worthy.
Since none of us is worthy to receive, then we must work on our preparation. Many people equate fasting as the sole preparation in order to receive Communion. If that is so, then our understanding of Communion is very in line with the Old Testament way of thinking—that receiving Christ is based on a set of dietary requirements. While fasting is part of our preparation, it is not all that we need to do.
In order to receive Communion, first and foremost, one must believe in Christ. It doesn’t do any good to receive Christ if one has no faith. What is more important, fasting or faith? Certainly faith is the most important prerequisite to receiving Communion. Next would be a relationship with Christ through prayer. Fasting without prayer, is called “dieting.”
One of the other prerequisites for Holy Communion is moral living, living according to the commandments of Christ. Confession is where we examine our lives according to God’s Commandments, and not only that, we allow ourselves to be examined by an ordained priest who has been given the blessing to hear confession.
Confession is NOT just a listing of sins, getting a clean slate, and then coming back when the slate is dirty again.
A cry for help. It is the cry of the Prodigal Son, that “I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called Your son.” (Luke 15:18-19) The sins of each person that lead them to cry out to God may be different, but the cry is the same—I need help! This is why, as a priest who hears confessions, the sins you bring to confession are not as important as the mere fact that you came to confession. Because it is not the sins specifically that the priest is listening to, but the cry for help, offered with humility, that lets the priest know that one has come with a contrite heart.
A recommitment to God. Confession affords one the opportunity to not only purge oneself of sins, but in so doing, one recommits his or her life to God.
An opportunity to be rid of guilt. Everyone carries around a certain amount of guilt over past failings. Many people have told me over the years that they “confess” their sins privately, but still feel guilt over them. Through confession and repentance, we are given permission to leave our guilt and depart in peace without further anxiety of the sins we have confessed.
An opportunity for some guidance. No one should go it alone when it comes to faith, or the journey to salvation. Developing a relationship with a Spiritual Father (of your choosing) affords you the opportunity to enjoin someone else in your challenges and for them to offer advice as well as prayer for you. There is also something powerful about speaking from the heart in front of someone else. It is validating. It also helps to keep one accountable.
An opportunity to receive absolution, a complete wiping out of sin. Jesus gave a command to the disciples, that “if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.” (John 20:23) By extension, the Apostles ordained bishops who have ordained priests until this very day, who have been given the permission to “loose” sins, so that they are completely wiped off of our record.
Confession gives us the opportunity to answer in this life. If our life is a book, and if at the Last Judgment, “the books shall be opened up, and public knowledge will things hidden be” (Kontakion, Sunday of Last Judgment, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes), then confession gives us the opportunity to clean up our books in this life. Whatever things are offered in confession come out of our book of life, not to be spoken of again, in this life or at the Last Judgment. What a beautiful opportunity to shed our sins as we go, growing closer to God, so that we can look forward to His Judgment, rather than dreading it.
How often should one go to confession? There are lots of different answers to this question. Different priests and different jurisdictions have different answers and different practices. Some will say that one should go to confession each time one receives Communion. That might not be practical for either the penitent or the priest. I personally believe (and this is just my belief, I do not speak for the church), that a person should ideally go to confession once or twice a year, not only to confess sins (which takes only minutes) but to open a dialogue with their priest about the state one’s spiritual life in order to bring one into a closer orientation with God.
We go to a doctor for examination, not only for what we know is wrong, but for things we cannot see, like our cholesterol. And just like we go to the doctor, we should go for confession in times of acute spiritual sickness, and at least once a year for a “spiritual check-up.”
Holy Communion, touching the Divine God, is a serious, heavy, holy thing. It should not be treated casually, but with reverence. Part of our reverence is preparation. Part of our preparation is examination. And an important part of examination is confession.
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 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. (Prayer of Preparation for Holy Communion, from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Trans. by Holy Cross Seminary Press)
Examine yourself today, and if you haven’t been in a while, make an appointment for confession with your priest or spiritual father.
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