RECEIVING HOLY COMMUNION– GOOD OR BAD?
This concerns only the Orthodox Eucharist, for the Church recognizes this mystery as present in Orthodoxy alone. First what is the Mystery of Holy Communion and its purpose. A mystery always includes something hidden or unseen to many except initiates. Hidden in the Holy Eucharist of Orthodoxy is the Lord himself, for the bread and wine have been changed by the Holy Spirit and the Priest’s prayers and invocations into the Body and Blood of Christ.
Christ made it clear to His disciples and the Jews, that He is the Bread which come down from heaven. Hear is some of the conversation. “I am the bread of life; he that comes to me shall never hunger; and he that believes on me shall never thirst . . . the Jews murmured because He said, I am the Bread which came down from heaven. And they said, Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it that He says, I came down from heaven? . . . The Jews strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us flesh to eat. Then Jesus said to them: Amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His Blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life; and I will raise Him up on the last day. For my flesh is truly food, and my blood is truly drink. He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood, dwells in me and I in him.”
Christ here identifies himself with the Bread which came down from heaven. On the night in which he was betrayed He established the partaking in the mystery of the Eucharist or Thanksgiving which is the great mystery and center of our Orthodox Faith. “Jesus took bread and broke it, and gave it to them and said, Take, eat. This is my body. And He took the cup, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And He said to them, This is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many” (Mark 14:22-24).
Who should approach and partake of this fearsome mystery? Only those who have repented and changed their lives, abandoning sins and the spirit of this world, Their souls should be washed in the tears of repentance for this is no small manner. The purpose of partaking is not at all trivial, but is of great importance.
St. Paul says the following regarding partaking of Holy Communion: “For I have received of the Lord that which I also delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread , and when He had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat; this is my body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of me. After the same manner also He took the cup, when He had supped, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood; this you shall do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you show the Lord’s death until He comes. Wherefore, whoever shall eat this bread and drink this cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup. For he that eats and drinks unworthily eats and drinks condemnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s Body. For this reason some of you are weak and sickle and some have even died" (I Cor.11:23 -30).
There are many books available on this subject and partaking places a great responsibility, so it would be prudent to learn more. For example there is preparation which starts the night before. There are pre-Communion prayers which contribute to our partaking worthily. There is the timely attending and taking part in the Divine Liturgy and there are the Thanksgiving Prayers of after receiving these great gifts.
If we have the interest to attend and partake, would it not be better to do it according to the Church’s teaching and thus avoid the terrible threat of partaking unworthily?
Finally our lifestyle must conform to the Orthodox Christian lifestyle and not that of this world, which leads to perdition. Our mouths and lips need purification as does our mind and hearts. We need to do everything possible, in deep repentance to partake in a worthy manner, and Christ will then work in us to exalt and lead our sinful souls into eternal life. For He alone is good and the Lover of man.