By Father Steven Tsichlis
Orthodox Christians fully participate in the celebration of the Liturgy when they receive the body and blood of the Lord Jesus in the sacrament of holy communion, as the Lord commands (John 6:53). To receive communion in the Orthodox Church, one must be a practicing Orthodox Christian. This means that you must be baptized and/or chrismated in the Orthodox Church and that your beliefs and lifestyle are in accordance with the teachings of the Church.
In order to be properly prepared for this encounter with Christ, those seeking to receive communion should not be conscious of grave sin in their lives, having opened their hearts with prayer, fasted appropriately and lived with charity and love towards their neighbors. Because, as the apostle Paul teaches, it is possible to receive the body and blood of the Lord “in an unworthy manner” and actually be “sinning against the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27-30), those who are aware of grave sin in their lives should participate in the sacrament of confession – confess their sins and be reconciled to Christ and His Church – before approaching the chalice to receive communion. (Read 1 John 1:8-10; James 5:16; and John 20:19-23.) Frequent reception of the body and blood of Christ – at every Liturgy, if possible – is encouraged for all Orthodox Christians. This is in keeping with the ancient practice of the Church and the teaching of the saints. St. Basil the Great, for example, writing to the Roman patrician Caesarius in 372AD, says that “to take communion every day – to participate in the body and blood of Christ – is good and beneficial. For who can doubt that sharing in this Life is nothing else than living in many ways? We receive communion four times each week – on Sunday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday – and on the other days when there is the remembrance of a saint” (Letter 90).
We welcome those Christians not fully united with us in faith and life to our celebration of the Liturgy. Unfortunately, the guidelines offered above exclude those who are not of the Orthodox faith from the reception of communion. This is a sad and painful consequence of the painful divisions that exist within Christianity. Because we believe the reception of communion to be an action of the celebrating community that signifies a complete unity in matters of faith, life and worship, the reception of communion by Christians not fully united with us in faith would imply a unity that does not yet exist in reality. We pray that these divisions among Christians in fundamental beliefs and practices will lessen and finally disappear, in keeping with Christs prayer for His disciples “that they may all be one” (John 17:21).
We also welcome to the celebration of the Liturgy those who do not share our faith in Jesus as Christ and Lord. While we cannot extend an invitation to receive communion, we invite those visiting our parish to pray with us for peace and unity within the human family and hear the Good News of Jesus Christ.