Do this in remembrance of Me. For as often as you eat this Bread and drink this Cup, you proclaim My death, and you confess My resurrection. Therefore, Master, we also, remembering His saving Passion and life giving Cross, His three-day burial and Resurrection from the dead, His ascension into heaven, and enthronement at Your right hand, God and Father, and His glorious and awesome second coming.
We offer to You these gifts from Your own gifts in all and for all.
(Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, p. 29)
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.
I Corinthians 11:23-26
Christ is Risen!
The Eucharist, or Holy Communion, is the central thing that Orthodox Christians do. Why? Two answers come from the names given to this sacrament. First, the Eucharist. In Greek, the word for “Eucharist” is “Eucharistia” which is also translated as “Thanksgiving.” The Eucharist is an act of thanksgiving to God from His people. We receive Holy Communion because we are thankful.
“Holy Communion” in Greek is “Thea Koinonia.” “Thea” means “Holy” and “Koinonia” means “Fellowship.” Put together, Holy Communion is “Divine Fellowship.” Our regular concept of fellowship is a relationship between persons. For instance, after Divine Liturgy on Sundays in most churches, there is a “coffee hour” or a “fellowship hour.” The purpose of this is so that after we worship together, we establish relationships with the people with whom we are worshipping. There isn’t supposed to be conversation during worship, so our opportunity to get to know others in the community occurs after the service. This fellowship is critical, because without it, we won’t build relationships, and without relationships, we would be at church with a group of people, but we wouldn’t know them, we wouldn’t have fellowship with them, and we wouldn’t be able to help carry their burdens, as St. Paul instructs us in Galatians 6:2.
The “fellowship” that occurs in Holy Communion is different, in that it is a divine fellowship with God. However, it is similar because it is in this divine fellowship that we establish a relationship with the Holy Trinity. Thus, the second reason we receive is so that we can enjoy fellowship with God.
We receive Holy Communion because it is a commandment to do so. Jesus instructed His disciples to partake of His Body and Blood. In John 6: 53-56, Jesus told His disciples:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you; He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.”
As we discussed in the last reflection, Holy Communion also is what gives us sustenance in this life, as we prepare for eternal life.
Saint Paul, in I Corinthians 11:23-26, not only tells us why we receive Holy Communion, but how often we should receive. In verse 26, he is intentional with the word “often,” writing “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” The intention in Holy Communion is that we are receiving it often. Remember that the Eucharist is the most intimate expression possible to people. Because what could be more intimate than touch God or allowing God to touch us.
People often ask me how often they should receive Holy Communion, and my answer is two-fold. First, each person should check with his or her Spiritual Father, the person they go to confession to. Prayer, worship, Scripture reading, participating in the sacraments, etc. these spiritual disciplines should be discussed yearly with a Spiritual Father in the sacrament of confession. Second, and this is the answer I give to my spiritual children, one should receive Holy Communion as often as one can be prepared. Recognizing that no one is ever worthy, in the sense of being entitled, to receive Holy Communion, though it is Christ who makes us worthy, we can get to a place where we are prepared to receive. Preparation involves a relationship with Christ through prayer and reading of Scripture, moral living, reconciliation with your fellow man, and worship at the Divine Liturgy where you will receive. Can we be prepared to receive at every Divine Liturgy? Theoretically, yes. In truth, probably not. On the one week you didn’t prepare at all, or the rare Liturgy you come really late, etc., these are times where one might consider abstaining. If one goes to the Divine Liturgy often but partakes only infrequently, one should ask why? And if one rarely goes to Divine Liturgy, but on the infrequent occasion received, again one should ask why? Because the intention of Christ and the church is for us to receive frequently.
I remember years ago during the Covid pandemic, when churches were closed for a few months, and we lived with such uncertainty, that one Sunday I raised the chalice to receive Holy Communion and had two thoughts. First, I thought “unto my salvation,” that this insanity or whatever you want to call it helps lead me to my salvation, then everything is still okay, even when it isn’t. Because ultimately, I want my life to lead to salvation, so even the bumps along the way aren’t the end of the world. Secondly, as I held the cup above my head, I realized “this is the only perfect thing that I have.” In receiving Holy Communion, we partake of perfection, we taste of the perfect God even in the midst of the imperfect life in the imperfect world. Thus, as we go through life, seeking our perfect salvation as its goal, it is good and necessary for us to partake of bits of perfection along the way, to encourage us and to remind us of where we are going. Holy Communion is a bit of perfect and we should receive it as often as we have a chance to.
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
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