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?

In the previous reflection I posed the question if there is a relationship between partaking of Holy Communion to such things as preparing for it, our confession of faith (our belief in the Truths of Christianity), and the manner of life we are living. Today I want to discuss the theme of preparation; not so much on how we prepare (the rules) but more so on why we prepare and what our focus is to be. Our state of mind as we approach the cup is important as evidenced by the following words of St. Paul to the Corinthian church:

In the last note, I spoke about receiving Holy Communion in obedience to our Lord's command to "do this in remembrance" of Him. I also talked about the meaning of remembrance. In the next few notes I want to discuss the guidelines for preparing to receive communion and how when observed with the right attitude, they help us to remember God. With the ever popular Peter & Paul Fast beginning on June 4th this month, what better time to ask the question, "How does fasting help us to remember God?"

Last time, I wrote about how fasting helped us to remember God and what the positive consequences were of fasting when done for the right reasons. Now, I want to address some practical matters related to fasting and put closure on this so I can move on to other preparation topics. There are three issues I will address. 1) Some practical considerations on how to fast. 2) The role of the parish priest in helping people to figure out how to fast. 3) What if someone doesn't fast? Does that mean they should not approach the cup?

Over the last year and a half I have been writing about this above topic as it pertains to the following areas of the spiritual life: Fasting, Prayer, Repentance (Baptism & Confession), and the moral lives we lead. I have stated why these areas are important in their relationship to receiving Communion. I have addressed when one should or should not come to Communion based on how one has approached these above areas as we “work out our salvation in fear and trembling.”  I am not going to rehash all that. If you have never read what I have written, you can go to our web page and find those reflections in the Pastor’s Corner of our web page. Or if you have pitched the old newsletters and still want to read what I wrote, see me and I will be glad to provide you those articles for you to read. What I want to do this month is summarize what I would ask you to do as your priest in these above areas as you prepare for Holy Communion. If this conflicts with what other priests have told you to do, please speak with me, and I would be glad to further discuss this with you.

Guidelines in preparing for Holy Communion:
• FASTING: Observe the Wednesday and Friday fast throughout the week to the best of your ability. If you aren’t able to keep the full fasting guidelines please see Fr. Paul and talk with him. Please keep a total fast from midnight on, until you receive communion on Sunday. For evening liturgies the total fast should be after you eat your noon meal. Children eight and older should be able to observe this as well. We should not approach the cup if we have totally disregarded the fast due to rebelliousness and self will. (“I just don’t want to do it.”). I have not addressed here the need to observe the four major fasts through the year (i.e. Great Lent, Advent Fast, Dormition Fast, and Ss. Peter & Paul Fast) I will speak about those at another time.
• REPENTANCE/CONFESSION: People should come to Confession at the minimum of twice a year; once during the advent fast before Christmas and once during the great fast before Easter. For those who receive Communion every week, their participation in the sacrament of Confession should be more frequent (at least four times a year). Once again, if someone is ignoring and choosing not to come to Confession at all, I would ask you not come to Communion and speak with me so we can work out what deters you from coming to Confession. I will not refuse Communion to those who still want to receive because I realize there is a long history in this parish of people who don’t go to Confession and receive Communion. Love, patience, prayer and education are the solutions to changing this habit, not legislation and a hammer.
• MORALS AND BELIEFS ABOUT THE FAITH: People should not be receiving Communion if they are committing major sins, living a lifestyle that is contrary to the teachings of the Church; especially if they are not repentant about it. Having an abortion, doing physical harm, or adultery are examples of major sins. Unmarried couples of the opposite sex or couples of the same sex who are sexually active or living together in a non-platonic relationship, should not be coming to Communion until they have come to Confession and repented of the sin. If anyone has rejected and renounced any of the beliefs of the Orthodox Christian Faith as defined in the Nicene Creed one should not be receiving Holy Communion until one can once again reaffirm those beliefs in the sacrament of Confession.
• PRAYER: Endeavor to keep a public and private prayer rule as part of preparing to receive the Eucharist. The public prayer refers to coming to the cycle of services the parish offers throughout the year. When taking a vacation during the summer, don’t take a three month vacation from Christ and the Church. Find a church to attend while on vacation. Do not forget to say your morning and evening prayers each day, this is your private prayer rule. 

Finally I can’t reiterate how important we do all the above for the right reasons. I have said time and time again, we could do all of the above and be no closer to Christ and His Church if we have the self righteous mind of the  Pharisee who uses his self justification to find fault with others. If our goal in fasting, confession, prayer, and living a moral life, is not to seek God, not to hunger for Christ, and not to do it in love, then we will only condemn ourselves before God because of our arrogance and self serving motivation. The way to approach preparation for Communion is to do it with the idea of esteeming all others as being better than ourselves and to acknowledge as St. Paul did that “I am the chief of sinners.”  This concludes my series of reflections on this above topic. Take care, and God bless you, Fr. Paul.

Whenever we think of fasting it usually revolves around food. The guidelines the Church tell us what foods we are to abstain from. More importantly the fathers say we are to fast from evil and that we would not use our time in lent consuming each other through in-fighting, gossip, jealousy, envy and bitterness. The hymnography from our lenten services tells us that we fast to cope with the passions for things in life that have enslaved us and to recover the right and good use of them; to use them and direct them in a manner that glorifies God and bears witness to the very goodness of Creation.