The Struggle for True Communion

For many Protestants (and some others) whose Church experience has largely been shaped in the past few decades, one of the most disconcerting aspects of a first visit to an Orthodox Church is the fact that not everybody, not all Baptized Christians, are permitted to receive communion. Indeed, communion is restricted to Orthodox Christians who have made preparation to receive (that’s another topic). For some, this is a surprise, for others, not, and for still some few, this is a welcome fact. When I first visited an Orthodox Church I fell into this last group. I did not rejoice that I was not able to take communion, but I rejoiced that I was not allowed to (in the state of schism in which I was living). Someone was saying to me, “There are things in your Christian life that must be addressed before you approach the Cup.” I understood this as healthy.

Indeed the rapid disappearance of communion discipline across much of Christianity in the latter half of the 20th century became as well a rapid re-interpretation of the sacrament and the radical exaltation of the individual over the Church. I have several reflections to offer in this vein.

First – the rapid disappearance of communion discipline meant the disappearance of boundaries. Nothing in the Church any longer said, “No.” With this, the Christian life itself loses definition. “Communion” with Christ becomes a purely subjective event, itself stripped of meaning because of the lack of boundaries. If there is no “No,” neither can there be a “Yes.” The Garden of Eden, paradise of perfection, contained a single “No,” one boundary. And yet that boundary alone defined communion with God. In not eating of that tree, Adam and Eve could live in obedience. Every other meal takes on its meaning of blessed communion because it is eaten in obedience. With the act of disobedience and the destruction of the only boundary given by God, every tree becomes a potential tree of death. Indeed, Holy Communion itself can become a Cup of Death according to St. Paul’s admonitions in 1 Corinthians.

Second – with the abolition of boundaries, communion ceases to be a struggle, and loses the ascesis that is essential to a healthy Christian life. Communion with God is a gift from God – but like the Kingdom of God, the “violent take it by force” (Matt. 11:12). This rather odd verse is a reference to those who pursue God in such a way that it is not inappropriate to use the word “violent” to describe it. St. John the Baptist’s ministry was marked by his fasting and struggles in prayer. It is such efforts that are “violent” in the Christian life. It should be normative in the Christian life that the holy mysteries are approached with ascesis. Rather than approaching God with an attitude of entitlement (“this is my communion”) we approach struggling against sin in our life: repenting, confessing, forgiving, fasting. In a Christian life they are acts of love.

In all of our healthy relationships some level of ascesis is practiced though we rarely reconize it or call it by that name. In marriage we understand that husbands are to “love their wives even as Christ loved the Church” (Eph. 5:25) that is, they are to lay down their lives for them. A marriage built on romantic phrases rather than sacrificial acts of love can all too easily be a marriage destined to fail.

It is not that we earn grace or salvation – I would argue strongly that every effort of “struggle” is itself an effort made possible and infused with grace. But the gift of our salvation should not be likened to a man who never picked up a baseball bat suddenly walking up to the plate at the last out in the ninth inning, facing a pitcher with an ERA below 1 and smacking the baseball deep into the stands in center field. I’ll grant that grace could work like that, but it would be Walt Disney and not Jesus Christ. Thus the God who saves us by grace tells us to “keep my commandments,” and any number of other things. [An exception: the wise thief. Ninth inning. Though even he surely knew a struggle as he fought his way to the words: “Remember me in your kingdom.”] God will not abandon us as we take up that struggle – but struggle we must – for such is the life of grace.

Before I was received into the Orthodox Church, of necessity I took a different “approach” to communion. Attending services before I was received into the Church, I knew that I would not yet be able to approach the Cup. But I kept the fast. From midnight forward I ate nothing. Thus like the rest of the congregation, I sang in hunger as Heaven surrounded us and God gave Himself to us on His most Holy Altar. I could not eat – but I could struggle to eat – I could be hungry.

Hunger is not the fullness of the faith – but, if I may be so bold – it is part of the fullness. And at certain times part of the fullness is more than nothing.

I think this is an important point for much of our life. There is a fullness of the Cup of Salvation that most of us have not yet tasted, even if we come to the Cup each Sunday. I do not yet know the fullness of loving my enemies, or forgiving my friends, or walking without fear (we can each make this part of the list longer). But I can know something of the fullness of hunger for these things and the daily toil of struggling for them by grace.

And by grace I pray at last to have been brought across that boundary of sin that separates me from others and myself, united to Christ and the liberty that comes from Him alone.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





69 responses to “The Struggle for True Communion”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Veronica du Bruyn. Veronica du Bruyn said: The Struggle for True Communion – For many Protestants (and some others) whose Church experience has largely been s… […]

  2. Ad Orientem Avatar

    Father bless,
    This was a GREAT post. Tons of food for thought and prayer in here.

    Under the mercy,

  3. Martin Flower Avatar
    Martin Flower

    Is there a consensus within the Orthodox today about the communion discipline for the faithful (apart from fasting) ? I’m thinking in terms of preparation and frequency. Could you provide some links or pointers ? Thanks.

  4. Mary Avatar

    In every moment direct me according to Your word, lest all lawlessness overpowers me. Rescue me from slanderous being, and guard me with Your commandments. Shine Your face upon Your servant and teach me Your statutes. Let my mouth be filled with Your praise O Lord so that I may sing of Your glory the whole day long. as is greatly fitting to do.

    Christ the True Light, Who enlightens and sanctifies everyone who comes into the world, imprint the light of Your countenance upon us, in order that we may see Your unapproachable light. Direct us at every moment, to works in accordance with Your commandments. Through the prayers of Your all-pure Mother and all Your saints. Amen.

  5. readerjohn Avatar

    At the Urbana 70 Missionary Conference of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, I got a little epiphany.
    Someone, of the 10,000 or so participants, questioned plans for a big communion service in the University of Illinois Fieldhouse New Year’s Eve. “How dare a parachurch serve communion? What is this?!” John R.W. Stott was appointed to reply to the question. I can’t recall what he said. The question was memorable, the post hoc rationalization forgettable.
    A seed was planted that germinated almost 30 years later.

  6. Seraphim Avatar

    Come, O Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful, and kindle in them the fire of Thy love.

    Send forth Thy Spirit, and they shall be created Emìtte Spìritum Tuum, et creabùntur. And Thou shall renew the face of the earth.

  7. Considering Ravens Avatar
    Considering Ravens

    This is of the subject of your article, Father Stephen (it is still sinking in) 🙂 I was wondering you or anyone else can recommend an Orthodox chat room or something similar. I am a new Orthodox Christian, and feeling very alone (alone and alienated, I think a previous article put it, though I think that was a different context). 🙂 Most of my family is either secular or in the kind of Christianity that wouldn’t give them the best perspective on the things I need to talk about. There is also a lot of conflict within the family that makes it hard to discuss anything. I can’t always reach my priest or sponsor (and I don’t want to be a nuisance to them), and sometimes I just need someone Orthodox to talk to. Any thoughts?

  8. practicinghuman Avatar

    Fr Stephen, such an important post about the nature of the Communion discipline of the Orthodox Church. Without the ability to cultivate self-discipline in the small things, we humans lose all ability to cultivate self-discipline in the bigger things. Also, it’s beautiful that the Orthodox Church affirms the status of full communicants to all those who have been baptized into Christ, including the least among us — our own infants.

  9. handmaid leah Avatar

    Dear Considering Ravens,
    Your priest probably considers it to be his joy to be available to you – your sponsor, as well. You are not alone with your concerns – we all have gone through this.
    I would caution you away from online chats about Holy Orthodoxy – one needs to be far more mature in the faith to participate and be able to discern truth from fiction.
    I have been Orthodox for 10 years this year and I do not utilize chat rooms on Orthodoxy – as well meaning most folks are…
    One exception is probably the Monachos site – packed with valuable information and run by a deacon, their chat room appears to be a civil truth-seeking exercise.
    God bless you and keep you,
    handmaid leah

  10. Seraphim Avatar

    How dare they indeed Reader John, and yet, if they don’t, they shall not see the light of life (cf. John 6:53-54).

    Thank you for bringing to the fore, this most pivotal of Epiphanies!

  11. NW Nikolai Avatar

    As we, my family and I, began our journey in and into the Orthodox Church in the Spring of 2009 I was thankful and humbled to have to refrain from partaking. It began the lessons in humility that I’m sure I will continue to struggle to acquire. There was an assurance that the boundary of waiting was a protection and benefit. It was disconcerting at times having been raised in the protestant tradition for over forty years and having partaken for over thirty of them.

    Thank-you Father for this post,

  12. Karen Avatar

    Dear Father, bless! Thank you for this post. I remember as a school girl being excluded from Communion for a time when the pastor of the Methodist church we attended (in an English village) learned that I had not yet completed my confirmation (my family having just moved to England from the U.S.). That exclusion was very painful for me because there has probably never been a time in my life that I have loved Christ so purely and ardently in my innocence as then. When the pastor invited us to the Communion rail, he did so by saying, “All you who love the Lord Jesus, come. . .” This was precisely the parish in which I remember having an experience at Communion of Christ’s Presence and loving embrace that came close to my experience as an Orthodox. Before this post I had never connected these two aspects of that Communion experience before, but they are clearly quite organically related.

  13. Seraphim Avatar

    A most aptly titled article dear Fr. Stephen.

  14. Doug C. Avatar
    Doug C.

    Father Stephen,

    Thank you for this wonderful post. Having just left an evangelical church, and now being an inquirer into Orthodoxy, I greatly appreciate the point of view you expressed. As we are not Orthodox yet, I and my family are not able to partake of the Eucharist. This has created in me a great longing for the Eucharist, as well as a deep sense of un-worthyness to receive it. I find it most intriguing and humbling to be in this position. Prior to this I believed I deserved it as I had earned it, after all, I was “saved.” Now I am learning that we are BEING saved, and it is most comforting in light of my constant sin and failure. Now I am learning to have compassion on the “least of these.” Now I know what it means to hunger and thirst after righteousness. I look forward to the day I may partake of Eucharist with great anticipation, and yet I am most thankful for this time of learning, humbling, and preparation.

  15. fatherstephen Avatar

    It varies across the world and jurisdictions according to frequency and the precise discipline of preparation and even will differ some from person to person according to the direction of their spiritual father.

  16. fatherstephen Avatar

    Perhaps one of our readers can make a good (and safe) suggestion. I do not participate in chat rooms.

  17. Lina Avatar

    I was received into the Orthodox Church in March. I can divide my waiting time into two phases. The first, as a visitor, I felt called to obey, respect, the rules of the house, just as I prefer visitors in my house to respect the rules of my house. As a catachumen, I begn fasting the night before in preparation and anticipation of the great day.
    And it was a great day!

    Several of my friends were appalled at the exclusionary stance. but this never bothered me. Yes, I did hunger and thirst as I watched the others receive but knowing that someday, in God’s timing I would join them just increased the anticipation.

  18. russianoc Avatar

    Thank you Father. This brings back wonderful memories of my first communion. What a blessing.!

  19. heymuzungu Avatar

    @Considering Ravens: I would strongly discourage you from wandering about in Orthodox chat-rooms. I use them for the foreign news one occasionally finds linked there but they are not often truly useful for much else and in many cases can be detrimental to your spiritual growth. Very often the substance of the content is little above polemic and name calling, every one getting in their two cents on the issue du jour. Handmaid Leah is correct, seek out your priest or sponsor. If they aren’t readily available maybe it would be a good idea to jot your concerns down, if those questions are still with you the next time you can meet your priest/sponsor then you will have them at hand to discuss, if they don’t seem like a big deal then, all the better. Try not to get discouraged there are lot’s of us fellow travelers out here.

    In Christ,

    Dn John Cox

  20. Patrick Avatar

    I will also concur about Monachos. Very good stuff. I will also concur that many chat rooms are not always so spiritually healthy. Often you find yourself in the midst of debates (either as participant or spectator) between people interested in being controversial, or arguing, or winning, and often all of the above. This is especially true between people of different faiths, but it can also be true amongst the Orthodox.

  21. Juliana Avatar

    Dear Father,

    Thank you for this post. As an Orthodox of 20+ years I shudder to think of the number of times I have partaken when I should not have or have approached the Holy Chalice unprepared and unaware of the gravity of the act. My Spiritual Father (Memory Eternal) used to tell me that the penance of refraining from the eucharist at times was not so much a “punishment” for sins committed but a call to long for that communion that I, by choice, stepped away from. Basically it was to reinstill that same desire that Zaccheaus had. In another vein, I also remember hearing from someone, regarding fasting, that if we are not careful in what we put into our mouths how can we possibly be careful in what comes out of our mouths. Thank you again.

  22. fatherstephen Avatar

    Always good advice viz. chat rooms and the like. If it engages in much argument, flee. The faith is rarely revealed in argument, opinion and the like. I try to keep such things at an absolute minimum here. The advice you all have offered is sound and well stated. Thanks.

  23. […] Struggle for True Communion By Stephen Smuts This is a very insightful post by Father Stephen (not me […]

  24. Em the luddite Avatar

    As a former Protestant about to receive my first (Catholic) Communion on Saturday, I appreciated this post. In my experience of attending mass and hungering for the past few years, I have found that the experience also reminds me of the wounds of division and the need to pray for the healing of the Church. Your post reminds me to pray for the healing of older wounds of division.

  25. James, the Brother Avatar
    James, the Brother

    Considering Ravens,

    Handmaiden Leah typically offers insightful wisdom. She has done here on all counts for you benefit.

  26. […] Struggle for True Communion Posted on May 19, 2010 by Vincent The Struggle for True Communion « Glory to God for All Things. This entry was posted in Ecclesiology, Eucharist, Orthodoxy. Bookmark the permalink. ← […]

  27. Margaret Avatar

    Thank you for this posting, Fr. Stephen. My husband and I considered it a blessing to our lives to be excluded while catechumen. He was much better than I at practicing the fast before we were chrismated. At the time I thought, “I’ll do without my morning coffee when the time comes.” Now I see with Orthodox worship and practice of the faith — again — there is blessing in the struggle. Glory to God for all things!

  28. Jeremiah Avatar

    Thank you Father, for sharing that. I too fast when I am able to attend Liturgy (my work schedule doesn’t always allow it). I want to enter into the Life of the Church, and let it enter me.
    I would ask that any who read this, pray for my wife. This is the big thing that she gets angry about, any time we talk about the Orthodox Faith. She has no desire to become Orthodox, and this is one of her major hang-ups.
    I want to enter the Church as a family, but I don;t know if that will be possible, barring a miracle, Again, please pray.
    Thank you.

  29. fatherstephen Avatar

    I will certainly pray. I have known a number of such situations. Prayer and patience can make a huge difference. Trust God to work it out.

  30. Mark Harrison Avatar

    Thank you, Father Stephen. You express so clearly how certain “no”s are not restrictions, but liberations. I remember once watching Fr Paul Lazor serve with a priest from Russia whom he had only met a day before. As they stood at the altar waving the aer over the gifts during the Creed, the joy of concelebrating – of being brother priests though near strangers was so clear. Declining to have eucharistic communion with others is not rejection or denial of them, it is affirmation of Life in the Trinity, to which we invite everyone to come, but coming must be a decisive and definitive act. It’s not like going to Burger King – “have it your way.”

  31. Mark Harrison Avatar

    While I have not had time to participate in discussion on, it is definitely the one exception I would make to avoiding such forums, though I had to learn for myself about my own proclivity to engage in “idle talk.” I make an exception of Monachos because I have found so much sound, discussion of issues – and issues worth discussion. It’s almost like being in seminary class at times. The discussion between Byzantine and Non-Chalcedonian Orthodox was quite good last I saw.

  32. fatherstephen Avatar

    People frequently do not understand – the borders established – even by a “no” – a requisites of true personhood. Without them we begin to lose our humanity. The Way of the Cross, denial of self, is the Way of Life. The period of “no” communion, allowed my first communion to be true communion – a gift – a precious gift of love – not related to my ego, not deserved in any way.

    The casual communion that has come to be practiced in many churches (it is only a development of the second-half of the 20th century – Protestants have not always done this) has reduced communion from sacrament to a mere token of hospitality – or at least progressively runs that risk.

  33. Dharmashaiva Avatar


  34. Considering Ravens Avatar
    Considering Ravens

    Thank you all for your advice and cautions. Admittedly, I have never used any type of chat room before, so I do appreciate it–especially the warning about polemics and argument–I cringe from arguments :{ and certainly have no desire to debate with anyone. The Monachos site sounds much more like what I’m looking for–much thanks!

    Handmaid Leah & Dn John, just a note on my priest and sponsor–you are quite right–both have been wonderful! Unfortunately I’m some distance from the parish, and part of my difficulty contacting them is that I don’t keep normal hours–I have a precious baby who consistently stays up all night [teething].
    So I stay in touch with them via email and such–not ideal, but it helps. Lately I’ve just been a little desperate for good spiritual conversation (desperate enough to even consider chat rooms) 😉
    Thank you all, I will check out the monachos site. I really do appreciate your advice!

  35. Darlene Avatar

    Mark Harrison,

    Fr. Paul Lazor now lives in my area and attends our parish. I appreciate his participation in the Divine Liturgy as well as when he preaches homilies. He is such a blessing to our parish!

  36. Considering Ravens Avatar
    Considering Ravens

    By the way, this blog is a Godsend!

  37. Dean Arnold Avatar

    Unlike many enthusiastic readers here, I also have the privilege of hearing you in concert, I mean in person, and you have mentioned something several times that stuck with me, and I was expecting to read it here. Perhaps you have posted it elsewhere.

    If I am recalling this correctly, you have mentioned that the 20th Century’s progression into open communion somewhat mirrors the timeline of society’s plunge into open sexual relations. And if the church informs our ethical behavior and our ability to practice purity, these two developments may not be a coincidence.

  38. practicinghuman Avatar

    Related to hospitality, I am very grateful for the parishioners who shared the blessed bread with me when I was a visitor, inquirer, and especially as a Catechumen. My first attendance at the Vespers for the great feast of Sts Peter and Paul showed me that I really only had blessed bread offered to me as a Protestant Christian. As I grew in my commitment to the Church’s teaching, the blessed bread offered a sustaining pointer towards the fullness of Communion. This pointer became even sharper as my priest exhorted me to not partake of the bread unless I too had kept the Eucharistic fast.

  39. james32just Avatar

    I will join Fr. Stephen in praying, and ask for the same in return for my wife and (grown) daughter, who have the very same issue. I was just chrismated on Holy Saturday after over eleven years having passed since resigning as a Protestant pastor to begin this journey. It was time, and is a great joy and a deep peace. And my family is kind and loving–but it is still a pain to have this particular division between us.

    Fr. Stephen: Thank you for the post, both its content and spirit.

  40. Dave B. Avatar
    Dave B.

    Dear Fr. bless,

    Thank you for a wonderful, timely post. My family and I will be received ino the church by chrismation and then approach the chalice for the first time this Pentecost Sunday. I am humbled and excited and trembling and humbled yet again. Please pray for me, an unworthy sinner.

    This has been a long time coming for me and my family. The road ahead of you may look long and daunting. You will not be traveling alone, as we are all in this together. In my feeble attempts, I will try and pray for you and your family.

    Asking for your prayers,

  41. Darlene Avatar

    Perhaps someone or several commenters can help me out here. Sometime within the past year my husband (an Evangelical Protestant) and I were having a conversation with a close friend of ours (also an Evangelical Protestant) about this very subject.

    She went on to talk about a situation in her church on Communion Sunday, in which the young lady next to her (not a Christian) was ready to partake of the crackers and juice. Just as her hand reached for the elements, my friend stopped her. She told this young lady that Communion was only for those who are saved and believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

    My husband went on to talk about another incident in the Methodist church he had recently attended. On that Communion Sunday, the minister allowed anyone who wanted to, to partake of the elements. This disturbed him so much that he was determined never to go back again.

    Both of these incidents led the discussion into the topic of open Communion. My friend said that her church does not practice open Communion, because only those who have trusted Christ as their Lord and Savior are allowed to partake of the elements when they are passed around. I have heard this line of thinking on various occasions, and attended enough Evangelical Protestant churches where such an understanding was practiced.

    However, I attempted (not successfully) to explain that such a practice, is in fact, open Communion. It may not be as open as those liberal churches that say the table is open to anyone and all who are present. However, the very nature of such kind of Communion makes it a very personal, independent, and to some degree, self-centered act. Who is to say such and such a person has or has not “accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior?” By such a standard, a perfect stranger can come among the congregation and take Communion because at some time they have confessed Christ as their Lord and Savior. And such a practice minimizes the open partaking at the altar. By its very nature, one is taking the elements on their own, rather than having the elements being administered TO them.

    Which brings me to another issue. The non-denominational church I last attended prior to becoming Orthodox, originally practiced the giving out of the elements of grape juice and crackers at the front of the church. They had carried this practice over from their Methodist roots (the church from which they broke away), in which Communion is taken at the Communion rail. Eventually they dropped this practice and began passing around the elements in the pews. The reason for this was the concern of certain members that those who were not going up to partake of Communion were being judged by others. So, passing around the elements in the pews would eliminate this problem. Right then and there I knew that the sacredness and accountability of partaking of the Lord’s Supper was being set aside for the sake of appearances.

    A couple of questions. When did the practice of passing around the elements in the pews (for anyone to take according to their own personal discretion) begin? Was it a practice that just began to catch on and eventually became popular? How do I explain to my Evangelical Protestant friends that what they think is not open Communion, in fact IS by its very nature, open Communion? As far as Orthodox Christians are concerned, should we call beforehand if we are going to attend a parish where we are not a member, to inform them that we are coming? Is it customary to partake of the Chalice in a parish in which one is not a member? IOW, what is the proper conduct in taking Communion outside of ones parish?

    Often, in conversations such as these, those who are not Orthodox Christians will make a comment something to the effect that there are more than likely those within the Orthodox Church who wrongly partake of Communion. Of course, this is true. But how does one reply to such an obvious comment? Even Judas partook of Communion, and it was to his condemnation.

    I appreciate any who are able to clarify some of these matters and address the issues I have raised more thoroughly, precisely, and clearly.

  42. Darlene Avatar

    Dear Jeremiah,

    Believe me when I say, I do understand your plight. My journey into Orthodoxy has been fraught with challenges and difficulties. Even now, I am the only Orthodox Christian within my entire family, as well as among my close friends.

    My husband was warned by one of our friends that the Orthodox believing in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is proof that the Orthodox are worshipping a false Christ. In the warning, he told my husband to flee from such people for believing that the Eucharist is truly Christ’s body and blood is idolatry. I am thankful to God that my husband was not easily persuaded.

    Nonetheless, he has become very disturbed about this matter. It troubles him deeply that we cannot take The Lord’s Supper together. He has been meeting with my priest to discuss the Orthodox teaching on the Eucharist. Father has given him some material to read and ponder. Still, my husband cannot yet bring himself to believe in the Orthodox teaching and practice of Holy Communion.

    Often, he will say, “How can the Orthodox say that I don’t have the life of Christ in me?” Such a question generates very emotional dialogue between the two of us. On one hand, I cannot say that my husband is not a Christian. On the other hand, I can say that he is not part of the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, Orthodox Church. Is he somehow mystically a member of the Church of Christ? I think he is, but not in its fullness. Afterall, I pray with him often, we read and have discussions on the Holy Scriptures, and he volunteers in works of charity with the Salvation Army. How can I say he is not a Christian? I cannot even say that of myself prior to being Orthodox.

  43. fatherstephen Avatar

    We do not say that the non-Orthodox are not Christians. Your comment with regard to the fullness is more accurate. Communion is a participation, a communion in the Body and Blood of Christ – but it is also a participation, a communion in the One Church. If someone does not want communion with the One Church, then they are not prepared for communion with Christ either. It is very much like a marriage. Communion in marriage is most fully expressed in our intimacy. We should not practice such intimacy with anyone other than our spouse. It is indeed painful that schisms and heresies exist and separate Christians. Just as it is painful that issues separate husbands and wives. But those schisms and heresies must be overcome before true communion is restored, just as other issues need to be addressed before a separated couple returns to marital intimacy (generally).

    I am not certain when communion practice changed in Protestant practice. Some of it changed in response to the flu epidemic in the 1918. All protestants who existed then would have used wine and bread rather than grape juice and crackers in the early 1800’s. Grape juice was not available until the process of pasturization was invented and applied to grape juice. The prohibition of alcohol is a 19th century phenomenon. The early Church actually classified the blanket condemnation of alcohol as a heresy known as enkratism.

    There are many things in protestant eucharistic practice that is relatively new (no more than 200 years old) and without historical or Scriptural warrant.

    On taking communion at other Orthodox Churches. You should contact the priest at the Church you will visit and let him know you are coming and where you are a member. In most places he will bless you to take communion if you regularly receive in your own parish. But if a priest has a stranger, who has not previously made him aware of their visit, etc., approach the Cup, he will likely turn them away if he cannot determine that they are an Orthodox Christian prepared to take communion.

  44. Karen Avatar

    Jeremiah, Darlene and all in similar situations, this is my situation, too. It is during Communion that my husband most struggles during an Orthodox service, not to feel it as rejection or judgment. Darlene, your questions are good ones, and ones I think about. Learning to think of myself both as a Christian (of sorts) and yet in reality outside Christ’s Church before I became Orthodox was one of the scariest aspects of the truth I had to bring myself to acknowledge, but to embrace the fullness of the Church’s self-definition, given by the Lord, I had to accept that I was indeed outside of that Church, though not outside of the Lord’s love and care (nor necessarily doomed eternally had I remained so out of ignorance and in the Lord’s Providence). In retrospect, I don’t see how I could have continued to progress on the road of repentance (given what I had confronted in myself and in my own religious subcultures up to that point) outside of the Orthodox Church, but I also see this is not the case for everyone. As Father Stephen has said at other places on this site, the only reason for entering the Orthodox Church is because you believe that it is the truth. Entering the Orthodox Church for the wrong reasons can actually be an indicator of something quite contrary to repentance! Father’s admonition to patience and prayers is certainly wise counsel. The Lord works differently in all of us and there has been much fodder for the Lord’s spiritual refinement of both me and my husband through my conversion.

  45. Jeremiah Avatar

    James32just, Darlene and Karen,
    Thank you for your prayers. I will remember you and your family in my prayers as well.
    I am going to try and read this blog post to my wife. Father Stephen obviously has a way with words that I do not. A background in theology, pastoral ministry and a number of years within Orthodoxy probably helps!

  46. easton Avatar

    darlene, my husband and i have had recent conversations about communion and other practices. we have anglican backgrounds. for us, it has nothing to do with feeling left out or prideful or entitled…we know we are not worthy. it always comes back to one question?? is this church law from man or god??

  47. practicinghuman Avatar

    Without ONE faith, there cannot be ONE Lord. Many congregations have space to believe whatever you choose to believe about the person of Jesus Christ. But if approaching the chalice indicates that everyone present holds the same faith in Christ and shares in identically the same body, then it should be approached soberly indeed. Our unity in faith also should affect our desires to live at peace with one another. A Protestant community I was a member of before becoming Orthodox said it this way, “Communion is a practice for those who regard themselves as followers of Jesus. That being said, the Bible says that two categories of Christians should abstain from communion. First, if you have unconfessed sin separating you from God, we encourage you to use this time to seek His forgiveness in prayer. Second, if you have not done everything in your power to amend a conflict with another person, the Bible encourages you to leave your gift at the altar and be reconciled to one another. If you can approach reconciliation at this time in this room, then you are welcome to partake of the elements together.”

  48. fatherstephen Avatar

    I understand the thought. The practice of communion discipline (which used to be the practice within Anglicanism as well) has been the practice of the Church throughout the ages. I’ll admit that the advent of the Reformation brought on an explosion in the diversity of Christian groups which tends to cloud the waters for many people. But the discipline and the canons which govern it go back to the earliest Christian times. If it is merely “man-made,” then the whole of the Church is just “man-made” and everything is up for grabs.

    But if the unity of the Church and our union with Christ are real and true (and not theoretical and “invisible” – which is a modern invention) then the discipline makes sense and properly embodies the teaching of Scripture and the most ancient practices of Christian Tradition, as well as the unbroken practice of the Orthodox.

    The result of discarding this tradition has been the gradual redefinition of the sacrament itself. The change in the practice is “man-made.” We know when men changed it and why and the results have been disastrous almost without exception.

  49. fatherstephen Avatar

    For any interested readers of this discussion, communion discipline brings up (ultimately) the questions of the Church, and the “limits” or boundaries of the Church. I recommend an article that is on my sidebar by the late Fr. Georges Florovsky, a highly regarded 20th century Orthodox theologian.

  50. easton Avatar

    thank you father stephen, i will read the article and also more about the original councils who interpreted scripture. my husband knows quite a lot about the history of the councils. i know much was lost during the reformation, and that it was man-made, but i am interested in the original law, from the earliest christian time.

  51. James McKeown Avatar
    James McKeown

    This is a very difficult subject. While I was a Catechumen in my transition from Roman Catholicism, I could understand mentally that I could not receive but my heart felt a distance that hurt. But now I realize, that we have to go through that desert experience before we can receive the Bridegroom who wants to be in union with me even more than I do. It is now more evident that prior to receiving the eucharist, I feel often that same need and experience His transendent mercy and forgiveness despite my unworthiness.

  52. Scott Morizot Avatar

    Darlene, I can answer the question about passing juice and crackers. The practice originated in the Wesleyan tradition which was heavily involved in the 19th century Temperance Movement. Dr. Thomas B. Welch (yes, of the family from which Welch’s came — started by his son I believe) experimented with applying pasteurization to grape juice in 1869 and perfected the process specifically for for providing safe unfermented “communion wine” for his local church. It caught on and was adopted as the standard practice at the Methodist General Conference in 1880. In 1893 Rev. R. W. Ryan came up with the idea of individual communion glasses to accompany the unfermented “communion wine”. The idea of communion ‘shot glasses’ was resisted at first, but over time — probably influence by things like the flu epidemic — became more widely accepted. I’m not sure exactly how it spread to become such a common practice across denominations, but that probably had something to do with the widespread influence of the Temperance Movement.

    Enough history? Anyway, it’s a very recent practice in terms of the history of the Church.

  53. Brendan Avatar

    Easton —

    In terms of the earliest church “law” regarding communion, of course prior to the adoption of the formal canons at Nicea (325), there were local disciplines regarding communion, particularly the exclusion from the chalice of those who were suspected of heresy — well before Nicea, and on the basis of the local church (or of the main regional centre, e.g., Alexandria, Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, typically acting in the form of a local synod) — that is the Church located in one particular place — excluding Arians and Gnostics and so on from the chalice. The reason for this was that such persons were considered to be apart from the Body of Christ by no longer sharing the unity of faith with the Church. At Nicea, these exclusions became universal and Church-wide by means of the canons of the ecumenical council (and subsequent councils added to these), but in effect these codified what had been the practice of many local churches before then … not all, of course, because some of the local churches had heretics in them, at least for a time, such as Arius.

  54. fatherstephen Avatar

    The Apostolic Canons, which were ratified at Nicaea had been in existence long before the council. There were a number of such collections that now are part of the Canons of the Orthodox Church. Being repelled from the cup for heresy or immorality was a universal practice within the primitive Church. Arius was deposed by his own bishop in Alexandria and that would have been the end of the matter, except that he ignored the Church and continued spreading his teaching, which was not utterly silenced until the later years of the 4th century – though first condemned at Nicaea in 325.

    The difficulty today, however, is primarily the problem of schism (not that there isn’t plenty of heresy around as well. But with 20,000 different Christian groups (more or less according to official stats) it is easy to see how theories which seek to surmount such insanity have come about. The doctrine of the “invisible Church” is a development that is mostly 19th century, though being treated in various ways by Protestants prior to that. The understanding of the Eucharist and the understanding of the Church (Ecclesiology) are ultimately inseparable because the Church is the Eucharistic Community. The Eucharist is not something that the Church does, but something that the Church is. This is not widely understood outside of Orthodoxy.

  55. (another) Elizabeth Avatar
    (another) Elizabeth

    Our priest has said that Orthodox clergy are charged with guarding the sacraments, with their lives, if need be.

    With that in mind, we witnessed one of those unforgettable visuals during the time that our (Antiochian) congregation worshipped with a dear group of Ukrainian Orthodox.

    The Ukrainian priest was an affable fellow with a cheerful countenance. But when a stranger approached the chalice, Father’s demeanor and posture changed. His whole person took on a defensive stance and character as he asked the pertinent questions of the would-be communicant.

    We could see if their responses satisfied him that they were Orthodox, even before he extended the spoon, because we could see his face relax and posture return to its regular state.

    If he retained any doubt as to their “eligibility” to receive, he did not hesitate to deny the sacrament but offered a blessing in its stead.

    My husband and I were so moved and heartened and encouraged by this priest’s simple but excruciatingly powerful display of obedience. It was similar to the comfort a small child feels when he falls asleep in the back of the car during a nighttime journey to home: all is well and he is safe.

    In this case, it’s the comfort of knowing the faith and practice and witness of 2,000 years remains unbroken. Glory to God.

  56. Karen Avatar

    (another) Elizabeth, thanks for that story. I love your analogy! It is indeed a comfort when our Bishops and Priests properly guard the Chalice. I have witnessed similar events in my own parish.

  57. […] Stephen Freeman has written an interesting post this week concerning the issue of inter-communion between the Orthodox Church and non-Orthodox […]

  58. Sean Avatar

    @Martin Flower:

    It is generally considered ideal to be able to participate in Holy Communion every time one attends a Divine Liturgy (which should be at least every Sunday, if the Canons are to be observed strictly). However, apart from the typical prerequisites for admission to the Cup (like praying, fasting, confession etc), there must be a true realization of what the Holy Communion is, what It offers and what are the risks of going to Communion with a heart that is not ready to receive it. Because of that, each person’s spiritual Father (something like a Confessor but rather more personal) can determine the frequency and the way of preparation (or even the penalty for sins considered grave) for participation in Holy Communion. Every person is different from everyone else and the spiritual Father is responsible and accountable to God for the proper use of discipline or economy (moderated leniency) on each of his spiritual children.

  59. NW Juliana Avatar
    NW Juliana

    I thought I would mention another aspect of the non-Orthodox not being able to partake in the Eucharist at an Orthodox church — in our parish’s order of worship each week there is a note to visitors. It speaks of this “closed” communion, and as part of the message describes how that for the Orthodox themselves to partake they will have prepared themselves through the sacrament of confession, and through fasting and preparatory prayers. I think it helps the visitor to ask themselves the question — if the members of this church are undergoing this pretty rigorous preparation for the Eucharist, who am I to come in here with an expectation to take part when I have not done these things? (Confession, fasting, prayers.) At least it helped us when we were inquirers.

  60. practicinghuman Avatar

    Juliana, you make some outstanding points. I also remember being in an Orthodox Church and feeling so out of my element. What are these icons and why are they here? Why is everyone kissing everything? What’s the deal with the incense anyway? I couldn’t imagine negating all of these places of obvious difference and disconnect to approach the Cup. And indeed the disconnect continues at the Cup: Why a common Cup? How do people not get sick doing this? Communion on a spoon? Ohmygosh, did an infant just receive communion? Why are people holding their arms like that? Why do even the elderly and the infirm walk the aisle instead of having the priest come to them?

  61. durk Avatar

    As an Orthodox Christian of 25 years, I definitely get this, but the only problem with it, is that by this definition, to be a community one must always have someone or something one says “no” to. I’m beginning to wonder about this paradigm.

    If by definition a community has boundaries, there must always be something it sets itself AGAINST. Is this just a fact of the fallen world — that there must always be an enemy, or at the very least, an outsider? Someone to say “no” to? Not sure…

  62. fatherstephen Avatar

    “No” is not a word to an enemy. It can be a word spoken to a friend. I’ve said no to my children many times. Boundaries are part of a healthy humanity – no enemies required. There was a “no” in the Garden of Eden – and that was Paradise.

  63. rdrjames Avatar

    Thanks, Fr. Stephen and all the browsers out there. Made me feel better regarding communion. If we all were ‘worthy’ there wouldn’t be a problem. But none of us are ‘worthy’ and repentance is the issue, eh?

  64. A Burning Cherubim Avatar
    A Burning Cherubim

    “No” is not a word to an enemy. It can be a word spoken to a friend. I’ve said no to my children many times. Boundaries are part of a healthy humanity – no enemies required. There was a “no” in the Garden of Eden – and that was Paradise. -Father Stephen Freeman

    If only they had said no to the tempter and temptation it would have remained Paradise…

  65. Wildlife Removal…

    The Struggle for True Communion « Glory to God for All Things…

  66. Foster Frascone Avatar

    The Struggle for True Communion | Glory to God for All Things

  67. Hong CoppsJacquline Everetts Avatar

    The Struggle for True Communion | Glory to God for All Things

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