Dear Beloved in Christ,
Last Sunday, in the homily I stressed that the Eucharist is the center of our life and of our very being. I also mentioned the importance of preparing to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. As I said on Sunday, the magnitude of the gift that we receive at the Holy Chalice is directly proportional to our preparedness: If we prepare little, we receive little, and vice versa.
Here are the ways in which we, as Orthodox Christians, prepare to receive Christ. Please note, this list may appear daunting. That’s because there is always more that we can do. It does NOT mean that we are failures and unable to receive communion if we come up short on one or a number of these preparations. Rather, it indicates the necessity to seek spiritual counsel, so that we are both realistic and also stringent in our pursuit, and so that our “worthiness” to receive communion is not self-determined.
Preparation for Holy Communion
- Abstaining from all food and drink on the morning of the Liturgy (or afternoon/day if it is an evening Liturgy).
- Following the regular fasts of the Church: Wednesdays, Fridays, and seasons of fasting.
- Saying the “Prayers Before Communion” on the evening before and/or the morning of the Liturgy. These prayers appear in most Orthodox prayer books and can also be found here.
- Keeping a regular prayer rule, which may include Scripture readings, the Jesus Prayer, prostrations, spiritual readings, etc. The prayer rule especially is greatly benefitted by guidance from a spiritual father.
- Praying unceasingly: Striving to constantly remember God, through perpetual prayer, including the Jesus Prayer.
- Participating in the worship services of the church whenever possible, including the Orthros service before Liturgy.
- Metania (“repentance” in Greek) means a changing or turning of the mind. Thus it is our life’s work to constantly refocus upon God. Each time that we turn away from Him, even for a moment – through getting angry, jealous, judgmental, lustful, proud, or any of the passions – we can turn back to him (metania). Thus our life becomes a perpetual repentance, not in some slavish self-hating way, but in the constant remembrance of our need for God at all times. (God is not a cold and austere judge; rather He is a willing guide for those who are willing.)
- Regularly seeking forgiveness from those against whom we have sinned.
- Confessing regularly (every 1-3 months) to a priest, through the Sacrament of Confession.
- Offering thanksgiving to God by giving to Him the first-fruits: a portion of our income. This tithe is the way in which we place our trust in God, saying, “If He has given all things to me, then I trust that He will continue to provide for me; and I give this offering to Him as testament to that trust and to my gratitude.”
- “Showing mercy” (from the Greek for “almsgiving”) to those in need: Helping the poor, comforting the afflicted, being the image of Christ to those in darkness. Charity comes in many forms: toward our family members, toward those who love us and toward those who hate us, toward parishioners, coworkers, acquaintances, and strangers.
- Forgiving everyone for everything.
- Keeping the Commandments
- Jesus said, “If you love me, keep My commandments.” (John 14:15); “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” (John 14:21); and “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. (John 15:10)
- Thus, striving to keep all of the commandments of our Lord is essential preparation for communion. We do not keep the commandments as a slave who fears punishment; but as a true son or daughter, who recognizes that it is only through the imitating of Christ (the “keeping of the commandments”) that we can become intimate with Christ and inheritors of eternal life.
Please note that ANY of these preparations might be modified by a person’s spiritual father if his or her situation necessitates a such a change.
In as much as we strive toward these goals, we are preparing to receive communion. Thus an Orthodox Christian who practices all of these preparations – and who does not have a major unconfessed sin – should strive to receive communion at every Liturgy. (If one has a major unconfessed sin, the goal is to go to confession as soon as possible, not to abstain from communion for weeks or months.)
Lastly, all of these guidances are intended as general signposts. The specifics are determined through the spiritual father relationship.
May God grant us all of the gifts and benefits of His Body and Blood, toward eternal life!