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
You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on your hearts, to be known and read by all men; and you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 2 Corinthians 3:2-4
So that they may be to those who partake of them for vigilance of soul, forgiveness of sins, communion of Your Holy Spirit, fulfillment of the kingdom of heaven, confidence before You and not in judgment or condemnation.
Holy Communion is the centerpiece of the Orthodox Christian church. The Divine Liturgy points us to Holy Communion as not only the climax of the service but the very reason for worshiping. We worship in a corporate context so that we can receive Holy Communion, so that we can touch the Divine God.
The study of Orthodox theology generates questions that often times are answered in the text of the Divine Liturgy. Such is the case with today’s reflection. After the Holy Gifts have been consecrated, the priest kneels before the Holy Altar table and continues the prayer of consecration with a list of six reasons to receive Holy Communion. Because in most churches, this prayer is inaudible, I want to share with you not only its words, but their rich meaning.
So that they may be to those who partake of them for vigilance of soul—Holy Communion is like food for the soul. The soul is the God-like part of each of us. It came from God. It desires to be filled with God. It is threatened by the cares of life and the stresses of the world. It is quenched through the receiving of Christ through Holy Communion. Communion, when we receive with proper spiritual disposition, awakens the soul, encourages the soul and keeps the soul vigilant. When we are not receiving Communion, it is much easier for the soul to fall into despair. Just like the hungry person needs food in order to function correctly, we need the Body and Blood of Christ for us to function at our best.
Forgiveness of sins—The Greek word used here is “afesin” which means “remission” or “wiping out” of our sins. Holy Communion, in concert with our personal repentance (which includes the sacrament of confession), helps to wipe out our sins on a continual basis so that we can work toward a oneness with the Lord. Prayer, fasting, moral living, reconciliation, worship, all these things that are pre-requisites in order to receive Communion, help us live in Christ in this life as we prepare to live with Him in the next.
Communion of Your Holy Spirit—In this instance, “communion” or “koinonia” in Greek, means fellowship. When we share fellowship with the Holy Spirit, we receive His grace and are both healed and strengthened of the things that are infirm and lacking in us. Having prayed for the Holy Spirit to come down upon us, as He comes down on the Gifts we presented, we now pray that He not only come down on us, but that He comes into each of us.
Fulfillment of the kingdom of heaven—In order for there to be a fulfillment of something, there has to be a beginning or a promise that leads to eventual fulfillment. The promise came from Christ, that those who believe will one day inherit His Kingdom. We live in the period of time between this promise and the day Christ comes again to judge the living and the dead, and to grant to those who are righteous His eternal Kingdom. So we pray that the promise of Christ will be fulfilled in our lives, and in the lives of those we are worshiping with. Holy Communion is a necessary step in this journey, as it gives us the spiritual sustenance to pass through this life on our journey to eternal life. Holy Communion helps bring the promise to its eventual fulfillment.
Confidence before You—Many of us lack confidence. We lack confidence in material things. We lack confidence in ourselves. We lack confidence in others. And many lack confidence in spiritual things. We either wonder if the promises of Christ are just as He said them, or we worry if we will be worthy of the promised Kingdom. Holy Communion, among other positive things, helps us to have confidence in both spiritual challenges. By receiving often, we are strengthened to live our Christianity in a secular world which often challenges and ridicules what we believe. By receiving often, with proper preparation, we have confidence that indeed God does love us and desires us to be with Him. Staying away from this Eucharistic encounter with Christ for long periods of time will either make us feel not confident (we are afraid to approach) or make us feel indifferent. Receiving often can only be a confidence-builder.
Not in judgment or condemnation—And as if to reassure us that it is okay to receive, these words are added to the prayer. No one is every worthy to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. We receive these through His divine mercy. We can prepare ourselves to receive, but we cannot proclaim ourselves worthy. So, we ask the Lord to deem us worthy to receive, and for this act to be one that instills confidence in us and does not lead to condemnation. To receive without preparation, to receive in anger, to receive when engaged in an immoral lifestyle, these things lead to condemnation. We all sin, we all need God’s mercies and we all need them each time we receive Communion. For how can a sinful human being, even one who strives not to sin, be able to touch the Divine God? Only through His mercies.
There are many reasons to receive Communion, six of them highlighted in this prayer—for a heightened sense of vigilance in our souls, for the remission of our sins, in order to enjoy fellowship and grace with the Holy Spirit, as a pre-cursor to inheriting the Kingdom of heaven, for confidence and encouragement and in order to avoid judgment and condemnation.
Lord, make me worthy continually to partake of Your Holy Gifts. I know that I am never worthy to receive them, but allow me through Your Grace to be able to receive them often. Through Your Holy Gifts, may I find a heightened sense of spiritual awareness and may they help lead to a wiping away of my sins. Allow me to experience the grace and fellowship of the Holy Spirit through Them, and may they lead to my eventual entrance into Your heavenly Kingdom. May the receiving of Holy Communion give me confidence, lead me away from judgment and condemnation and lead me to You. Amen.
Prepare today for the next time you will receive Communion.
Photo credit: classicalchristianity.com