Preparation, Frequency, and When to Receive or not Receive
What a strange title for a reflection. But this theme is a challenging one to talk about because there are so many different understandings of the above theme and their relationship to each other. Some people only to go to Communion once a year and never go to Confession; some go to Confession and Communion once a year (My own mother, God rest her soul, never went to Confession her entire life). Then there are regular communicants at the Eucharist with various understandings on how frequent Confession should be. Some are told Confession is a requirement before going to Communion which means if they commune weekly they must go to Confession weekly. When it comes to fasting rules there are also different versions of that. Many are told they must fast one or two weeks before going to Communion and married couples should abstain from sexual relations during that time. Some might not be aware of the fact that Wednesday is a fasting day in the life of the Church. Then there are those communicants who view fasting as Maynard G Krebs of the late 1950's Dobie Gillis show viewed work. He would yell out "Work!" in a panic as something to be avoided. The two seasons in which we have forty day fasts seem to be hard for most people to keep given the type of world we live in today. The McDonalds Lenten/fasting menu doesn't offer many options. In my upbringing as a child I was never aware of the fact that we had a forty day fast that preceded the Nativity. Then there is the ever popular Peter & Paul fast and the Dormition fast. What's up with those? Some priests stress the importance of coming to Vespers on Saturday evening as a means to prepare for receiving Communion. The last three Saturdays I prayed the Vesper service by myself. How often do parents hear kids complain to them; "Why do we have to do this when others don't?" Our fasting and preparation rules do seem stricter compared to other Christian traditions (assuming they have any preparation rules at all). So does lack of preparation, mean that one shouldn't approach the cup?
There are also issues of faith, morality, and ethics. How is that related to receiving Communion? I once had an Orthodox Christian tell me he didn't believe the part in the Creed where we confess that Jesus Christ is of one essence with the Father. What if someone doesn't believe in the Incarnation, the Resurrection, or the Virgin birth? Does someone's rejection of these basic Christian doctrines mean that they should not come to Communion? When we say the Creed at the Liturgy, that is one of two places where "I" is said instead of "We". Is there a relationship between the "I believe..." of the Creed, our confession of the Faith, and participation in the Eucharist?
Is there a relationship between a moral lifestyle and the Eucharist? We live in a world today where moral values have radically changed since the late 1960's and 1970's. Abortion is legal. Pre-marital sex is not seen as a sin and regularly practiced. Many couples live together before getting married, or may never bother with marriage. As another priest remarked, adultery once seen as a serious sin is now characterized as "having an affair." Homosexual behavior is no longer seen as sinful by many. Now we have the first female head of the Episcopal church in USA stating she believes her church should bless or marry gay and lesbian couples. Plus you have the first practicing homosexual bishop that was ordained in the same Episcopal church. Hollywood and the TV media pretty much seems to sanction and normalize all the above lifestyles. The prevailing rule here seems; "If it seems right to you, then it is OK." Here is the problem, the last time I took a look at what the Orthodox Church teaches concerning morality is: 1). Abortion is a sin and is only allowed when the life of the mother is at stake. 2). While the Church understands that sexual orientation is something that may have a genetic component to it, the Church does not bless people of the same sex having sexual relations with each other. 3) The Church actually still teaches that sexual relations between a man and a woman are only blessed after the couple brings their relationship to the Church to have it blessed in the sacrament of Marriage. This is probably the most difficult issue to address and some may laugh at the notion that the Church still teaches this. So if you say you are an Orthodox Christian and don't accept certain things the Church teaches as being true, or live an unrepentant lifestyle the church doesn't bless, does that mean it is still OK to receive Communion in the Orthodox Church?
Some of you may already know the answers to these questions I have posed and know what I would say. There are too many issues I have raised here that require much thoughtful and prayerful attention. It is my hope in the next year to come I can address some of these issues in the various forums our local community offers. Some of these answers may come through future newsletters, education classes, or in some of the conversations we will have as I get to know you all. We need to take a look at the relationship that exists between, the sacrament of Eucharist, and preparation for it, how what we believe is related to it, and finally how we live is related to it. I hope my answers in the months to come will help to sort some of this out. Fr. Paul