And unite us all to one another who become partakers of the one Bread and the Cup in the communion of the one Holy Spirit. Grant that none of us may partake of the holy Body and Blood of Your Christ to judgment or condemnation; but, that we may find mercy and grace with all the saints who throughout the ages have pleased You: forefathers, fathers, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, preachers, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, teachers, and every righteous spirit made perfect in the faith.
(Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, p. 31)
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 anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill and some have died.
I Corinthians 11:27-30
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.
Hebrews 12: 22-23
Christ is Risen!
Several of you emailed me after the reflection the other day on why and how we receive Holy Communion to ask how long we need to fast before we receive. The quick answer is we fast on Wednesdays and Fridays during the year, whether we are receiving or not. That is a spiritual discipline. We are supposed to fast during the pre-scribed fast periods, like Great Lent, the Nativity Fast, the Dormition Fast (August 1-14) and the fast for the Holy Apostles (Monday after All Saints Day through June 28). There are four weeks that are fast free—the week after Pascha, the week after Pentecost, the week after the Nativity (until January 5) and the week after the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee (the first week of Triodion). During those weeks, the only fast “required” is the day you are receiving Holy Communion prior to receiving in the morning. This is always required for Holy Communion. People who are sick or on medication do not need to fast. Consult with your doctor and Spiritual Father if you are sick or on medication. Women who are pregnant or nursing should not fast at all. For an evening Divine Liturgy, a fast should be kept for six hours prior to receiving Holy Communion.
The concluding portion of the prayer of consecration for the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and the Liturgy of St. Basil differ. St. John Chrysostom offers six specific reasons why we receive Holy Communion—vigilance of soul, forgiveness of sins, communion of the Holy Spirit, inheritance of the kingdom of heaven, confidence before God, and to avoid judgment and condemnation. (Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1985, p. 22)
St. Basil has only three. First, in partaking of Holy Communion, we hope to have unity among ourselves. We pray that Holy Communion will “unite us all to one another.” This is one of the reasons why the Orthodox church does not practice inter-Communion with other Christian denominations. Because for the Orthodox, Holy Communion is the sign of our unity. It is not a means to unity. We don’t receive Holy Communion hoping that it will unite Christians of different denominations. What this would create is a false union, wherein we could share Holy Communion with a non-Orthodox on one Sunday and then be back in our respective churches the next Sunday. We don’t invite non-Orthodox to commune with us. We request that those who are Orthodox do not commune in non-Orthodox churches. We do that with sadness, not elitism. In every Divine Liturgy we pray for the unity of the churches of God and for the unity of the faith, praying for the day that this reality will give way to a true unity.
There is plenty of division even in a single church community. We pray that Holy Communion will unite us to our fellow parishioners, in a spirit of love and also in a oneness of purpose.
The next thing we are praying for in the concluding portion of the prayer of consecration is for a sense of worthiness. Not that we find ourselves worthy, but that the Lord finds us worthy to partake of Him. In I Corinthians 11:27-30, there is stern warning about those who are partaking of Holy Communion without proper discernment are getting weak, sick and even dying. We want to partake of Holy Communion not in judgment or condemnation.
Lastly, and in similar fashion to the prayer of consecration of St. John Chrysostom, there is a desire for unity with those who came before us, and not just anyone, but those who pleased God through the ages. The prayer asks that we find the same grace and mercy that the saints, the ones the church has identified as holy and set apart, have received.
Our union is not just with those who are here with us, our peers in our church. Our communion is with those who have gone before us. The church called the church of earth the “Church Militant” the fighting church. The church of heaven is called the “Church Triumphant,” those who have gone on to their reward. The Church is very deliberate in our liturgical gatherings to represent both segments of the Church. In the preparation of Holy Communion, the priest commemorates (remembers) those who are living and those who have passed away. It is so beautiful that they are never forgotten. It is so comforting that on the diskos, the plate on which the bread is offered that becomes the Body of Christ, that whole families can stand together. Both my parents are deceased, yet when I prepare the Holy Gifts, I pray for my family who is here and my parents who have passed on and together we all stand on the diskos on the Holy Altar.
The priestly stole, called an “Epitrahelion” is worn for every priestly function. (A full set of vestments is worn for the Divine Liturgy. The stole and phelonion—the outer priestly robe—are worn for sacraments like weddings and baptisms). The Epitrahelion, or stole, is worn for even the smallest of gatherings—a house blessing, a hospital visit, a confession between the priest and one person. On the bottom of the Epitrahelion, traditionally, there are two layers of fringe, one representing the church militant and one representing the church triumphant. This means that for ANY and EVERY gathering of the church, not matter how small or how grand, we are gathering as one church—those who are here and those who have already passed on.
As the prayer of consecration comes to a conclusion, it does so reminding us that we are living in the continuum of time—many have come before us and we are uniting with them right now, in preparation for uniting with them for eternity.
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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