Preparing to receive
The most important element in the spiritual renewal of
the Orthodox Christian is the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
It is the one sacrament that transcends all other
sacraments. When we receive Holy Communion we receive Jesus
Himself into us. So great is this mystery that we are left
without any possible response which would express what God
has done. Therefore, we offer the only answer we can, 'Thank
The Greek word for Thanksgiving is "Eucharisto". We refer
to Holy Communion as "the Eucharist" and offer thanksgiving
to God for this great mystery whereby God not only
sanctifies the bread and wine, but also changes them into
the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
The bread and wine do not change into the body and blood
of Jesus Christ until the blessing and thanksgiving has been
completed. This happens at every Divine Liturgy. "We praise
Thee, we bless Thee, we give thanks to Thee, O Lord, and we
pray to Thee, O our God". While the choir sings the above
hymn, the priest prays for the descent of the Holy Sprit,
who transforms the elements on the altar into the body and
blood of Christ.
"Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh
of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in
you... For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink
indeed" (John 6:53, 55).
Therefore, if receiving the Eucharist is receiving Jesus,
we must take care to approach the Eucharist in a proper
manner. The way we approach this awesome mystery determines
whether our participation will be a blessing in our lives,
or whether we are condemning ourselves.
- Fasting is a spiritual discipline which was and is
intended to enhance our participation in the Eucharist -
it is not to be seen as an excuse to keep away from the
Fasting is a discipline which is not restricted only to
food. It is more than simply not eating. It is also not
lying, stealing, cheating, committing adultery,
gossiping, quarrelling etc. We must abstain from all
forms of evil. To think that by only setting a few days
aside to omit certain foods from our diet makes us worthy
to receive the Eucharist is to be spiritually naive.
- It is not uncommon to hear Orthodox Christians say
they are fasting on Wednesday and Friday because they
plan to take Communion at Sunday Liturgy. In reality, the
practice of Wednesday and Friday fasting has never been
purposefully linked to participation in the Eucharist.
Orthodox Christians are required to fast on those two
days of the week regardless if they are going to take
Holy Communion or not. [The Holy Apostles Sixty-Ninth
Canon of the Church]. This same Canon requires that
fasting be maintained throughout Great Lent also. No
mention is made of the Eucharist. In other words, regular
fasting must be a way of life.
- Many Orthodox Christians extend the Wednesday and
Friday fast to Saturday. They reason that if they fast on
Wednesday and Friday in preparation for the Eucharist on
Sunday, it does not seem right not to fast
on Saturday, the day prior to
receiving Communion. However, in so doing, they violate
the sixty fourth Canon of the Holy Apostles which
specifically forbids ever fasting on Saturday, the day
God rested after creation. Exceptions to this Canon -
Holy Saturday and a few other major feast days should
they fall on a Saturday.
- The Eucharistic Fast involves total abstinence from
any food or drink in the morning prior to receiving the
Eucharist. If therefore, you keep the Eucharistic Fast,
and there exists no moral reason for you to stay away
from Chalice, you become obligated to come forward and
receive Christ as He is offered at the liturgy.
- To assert that one has not fasted on the previous
Wednesday and Friday and therefore cannot come forward
for Communion, is, by itself, an insufficient cause to
abstain from the Eucharist.
- So strongly did the Church feel about this that we
find in the ninth Apostolic Canon of the Holy Apostle,
the following: "All those faithful who enter and listen
to the Scriptures, but do not stay for prayer and Holy
Communion must be excommunicated, on the grounds that
they are causing the Church a breach of Order". The early
Orthodox Church attended liturgy for one reason - the
- St John Cassion, writes, "We must not avoid Communion
because we deem ourselves to be sinful. We must approach
it more often for the healing of the soul but with much
humility and faith considering ourselves unworthy.
Otherwise it is impossible to receive communion once a
year, as certain people do such people manifest more
pride than humility for when they receive, they think of
themselves as worthy".
- Fasting was never intended to be a barrier to keep us
from Christ, but a bridge to lead us to fuller
participation in the life of Christ.
- In general, two views emerge concerning Confession
and the Eucharist. The first sees Confession as necessary
before each participation in the Eucharist. The second
sees Confession as a periodic practice not required
before every participation in the Eucharist.
- The result of viewing Confession as a pre-requisite
to every participation in the Eucharist is that it does
not enhance one's spiritual life but hinders it. It
hinders it because Confession becomes an excuse not to
take Holy Communion, much like fasting becomes an excuse
to stay away from the Chalice.
- Confession itself, of course, is not a hindrance, but
people make it a hindrance. It is not uncommon to hear
from individuals that they are not regular participants
in the Eucharist because they have not been to
- The Church, does not require a Confession from her
people every time they wish to partake of the Eucharist.
However, if it is your practice to receive the Eucharist
only a few times per year at certain times, your Priest
may rightfully insist that you go to Confession. If it is
your practice to partake of the Eucharist rarely, it is
probable that your whole approach to the Eucharist could,
and should, be questioned.
- If you resolve to be a regular participant in the
Eucharist, as every Orthodox should be, you should plan
on periodic Confession. This is defined by your Priest
and usually it means anywhere from once a month to once
every six months.
- It is not acceptable in the tradition of the Church
to keep away from the Eucharist using Confession as an
excuse. The Sacrament of Confession exists to enhance our
approach to the Eucharist, not to impede it.
- Did you know that the first Orthodox Christians took
Holy Communion every day? That's right, they could not
think of going through a day without taking the
Eucharist. So strongly did the early Orthodox Christians
feel about this that they introduced the 9th
Apostolic Canon that anyone who did not stay for prayer
and Holy Communion must be excommunicated. This shows how
seriously the Eucharist should be taken when offered on
Sundays. Those who attend Sunday liturgy and do not take
Holy Communion regularly should consider not going at all
unless their intention is to receive the Eucharist.
- Christians sin constantly. Sin is part of our life.
Therefore forgiveness must also be a part of our life.
Constant sin requires constant forgiveness. "If we say we
have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not
in us" (John 1:8).
- The Eucharist, approached in the correct manner,
takes away our sin and gives us the strength to draw
closer to God. What is the correct manner? The answer is
found in the liturgy itself when the Priest presents the
Chalice and intones, "With the fear of God, faith and
love, draw near". Therefore, if you do not have a valid
reason for not partaking, you are obliged to receive the
- If you have kept the Eucharistic Fast (ie not eaten
or drunk anything after waking up in the morning), and if
you approach with "fear of God, faith and love", and
there is no moral or canonical reason to impede you - you
must go forward when you hear the call.
- To live a life of infrequent participation in the
Eucharist means spiritual sickness. It may be you fail to
be regular in your partaking of
the Eucharist because you feel unworthy. In this case,
the question must be asked; when will you be worthy? Of
course, if you wait until you are worthy, forget it, you
will never be able to approach the Chalice. One of the
reasons we must constantly go forward is precisely
because we are unworthy.
- Should you still not be able to accept the fact that
you should be a regular participant in the Eucharist, you
must question yourself. Why do you feel this way? Are you
aware that there does exist someone who stands to gain by
your staying away from the Chalice? That person is the
devil. The longer you stay away from the Eucharist, the
stronger the devil's influence in your life. Do you want
to overcome the devil? Them receive Jesus Christ. The
Body of God both deifies and nourishes. It deifies the
spirit and nourishes the mind. It heals, purifies,
enlightens and sanctifies the body and soul. It helps us
to turn away from every fantasy, evil practice and
diabolical activity which work subconsciously in our
members. It increases virtue and perfection for Communion
with the Holy Spirit as a provision of salvation and
- If you know that you will receive the body and blood
of Christ on Sunday then during the week you will begin
to discipline yourself and make a determined effort to
overcome your passions. You will make every effort not to
sin. You will pray and fast with relative ease for you
are preparing your body and soul to receive Christ. You
clean and tidy your house (your heart) to receive the
King to whom no other King can be compared. And once you
receive the Eucharist, Christ gives you the spiritual
gifts to ward off the temptations of the devil which war
continuously against you and assist you to climb the
ladder of divine ascent.
By Fr T. Avramis (with the approval of Bishop
Anthony of San Francisco)
from The Truth, March 2004, v. 18/3, Greek Orthodox
Archdiocese of Australia,
Christian Missionary Society of the Ascension of our Lord
publication, Perth, Western Australia