Bishop Alexander of the Russian Orthodox church
The Sacrament of the Eucharist (which means thanksgiving), also known as Holy Communion, holds a central place in the Orthodox Church. While in other sacraments objects such as water or oil are only sanctified, in Holy Communion the objects of the Sacrament, bread and wine, are not only sanctified but actually transformed into the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. As a result, when a Christian receives Holy Communion, he receives Jesus Himself and joins with Him. So great is this mystery that no possible explanation can be found of how this happens, and one can only say with gratitude: “Thank You, my Lord!”
It is only the Orthodox and some ancient churches preserving the Apostolic tradition which hold to the belief that Communion is the actual Body and Blood of Christ. Most contemporary Christian churches think of Communion only as an observance commemorating the Last Supper.
Every Orthodox Christian should be grateful to God for the privilege given to him in Holy Communion and should partake of it as often as possible unto the remission of his sins, unto the healing of soul and body and for eternal life.
In this booklet, we first include the prayers before and after Communion because they will be needed most often. Then we discuss how the Eucharist was instituted and the meaning of this Sacrament. In the addendum, the reader will find excerpts from two documents which describe how the Liturgy was performed in ancient times and how Christians regarded this Sacrament.
O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere and fillest all things, Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life, come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls, O Good One.
The Lord is my Shepherd, and will deny me nothing.
He has settled me in a green pasture, and nourished me beside refreshing water.
He has converted my soul, and led me in the paths of righteousness for His Name's sake.
For even though I walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. Thy rod and Thy staff they guide me.
Thou hast prepared a table before me in the face of those who trouble me.
Thou hast anointed my head with oil; and Thy chalice comfort me!
Thy mercy will follow me all the days of my life.
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord throughout the length of my days.
O Sovereign Lord Jesus Christ our God, source of life and immortality, Who art the Author of all creation, visible and invisible, the equally everlasting and co-eternal Son of the eternal Father, Who through the excess of Thy goodness didst in the last days assume our flesh and wast crucified for us, ungrateful and ignorant as we were, and didst cause through Thy own Blood the restoration of our nature which had been marred by sin: O immortal King, accept the repentance even of me a sinner, and incline Thine ear to me and hear my words. For I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned against heaven and before Thee, and I am not worthy to gaze on the height of Thy glory; for I have provoked Thy goodness by transgressing Thy commandments and not obeying Thy orders. But Thou, O Lord, in Thy forbearance, patience, and great mercy, hast not given me up to be destroyed with my sins, but Thou awaitest my complete conversion. For Thou, O Lover of men, hast said through Thy Prophet that Thou desirest not the death of the sinner, but that he should return to Thee and live. For Thou dost not will, O Lord, that the work of Thy hands should be destroyed, neither dost Thou delight in the destruction of men, but Thou desirest that all should be saved and come to a knowledge of the Truth. Therefore, though I am unworthy both of heaven and earth, and even of this transient life, since I have completely succumbed to sin and am a slave to pleasure and have defaced Thy image, yet being Thy work and creation, wretch that I am, even I do not despair of my salvation and dare to draw near to Thy boundless compassion. So receive even me, O Christ Lover of men, as the harlot, as the thief, as the publican, and as the prodigal; and take from me the heavy burden of my sins, Thou Who takest away the sin of the world, Who healest men's sicknesses, Who callest the weary and heavy laden to Thyself and givest them rest; for Thou camest not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. And purify me from all defilement of flesh and spirit. Teach me to achieve perfect holiness in the fear of Thee, that with the clear witness of my conscience I may receive the portion of Thy holy Things and be united with Thy holy Body and Blood, and have Thee dwelling and remaining in me with the Father and Thy Holy Spirit. And, O Lord Jesus Christ, my God, let not the communion of Thy immaculate and life-giving Mysteries be to me for condemnation nor let it make me sick in body or soul through my partaking of them unworthily; but grant me till my last breath to receive without condemnation the portion of Thy holy Things, for communion with the Holy Spirit, as a provision for eternal life, and as an acceptable defense at Thy dread tribunal, so that I too with all Thy elect may become a partaker of Thy pure joys which Thou hast prepared for those who love Thee, O Lord, in whom Thou art glorified throughout the ages. Amen.
O Lord my God, I know that I am not worthy or sufficient that Thou shouldest come under the roof of the house of my soul, for all is desolate and fallen, and Thou hast not with me a place fit to lay Thy head. But as from the highest heaven Thou didst humble Thyself for our sake, so now conform Thyself to my humility. And as Thou didst consent to lie in a cave and in a manger of dumb beasts, so also consent to lie in the manger of my unspiritual soul and to enter my defiled body. And as Thou didst not disdain to enter and dine with sinners in the house of Simon the Leper, so consent also to enter the house of my humble soul which is leprous and sinful. And as Thou didst not reject the woman, who was a harlot and a sinner like me, when she approached and touched Thee, so also be compassionate with me, a sinner, as I approach and touch Thee, and let the live coal of Thy most holy Body and precious Blood be for the sanctification and enlightenment and strengthening of my humble soul and body, for a relief from the burden of my many sins, for a protection from all diabolical practices, for a restraint and a check on my evil and wicked way of life, for the mortification of passions, for the keeping of Thy commandments, for an increase of Thy divine grace, and for the advancement of Thy Kingdom. For it is not insolently that I draw near to Thee, O Christ my God, but as taking courage from Thy unspeakable goodness, and that I may not by long abstaining from Thy communion become a prey to the spiritual wolf. Therefore, I pray Thee, O Lord, Who alone art holy, sanctify my soul and body, my mind and heart, my emotions and affections, and wholly renew me. Root the fear of Thee in my members, and make Thy sanctification indelible in me. Be also my helper and defender, guide my life in peace, and make me worthy to stand on Thy right hand with Thy Saints: through the prayers and intercessions of Thy immaculate Mother, of Thy ministering Angels, of the immaculate Powers and of all the Saints who have ever been pleasing to Thee. Amen.
O only pure and sinless Lord, Who through the ineffable compassion of Thy love for men didst assume our whole nature through the pure and virgin blood of her who supernaturally conceived Thee by the coming of the Divine Spirit and by the will of the Eternal Father; O Christ Jesus, Wisdom and Peace and Power of God, Who in Thy assumption of our nature didst suffer Thy life-giving and saving Passion - the Cross, the Nails, the Spear, and Death - mortify all the deadly passions of my body. Thou Who in Thy burial didst spoil the dominions of hell, bury with good thoughts my evil schemes and scatter the spirits of wickedness. Thou Who by Thy life-giving Resurrection on the third day didst raise up our fallen first Parent, raise me up who am sunk in sin and suggest to me ways of repentance. Thou Who by Thy glorious Ascension didst deify our nature which Thou hadst assumed and didst honor it by Thy session at the right hand of the Father, make me worthy by partaking of Thy holy Mysteries of a place at Thy right hand among those who are saved. Thou Who by the descent of the Spirit, the Paraclete, didst make Thy holy Disciples worthy vessels, make me also a recipient of His coming. Thou Who art to come again to judge the World with justice, grant me also to meet Thee on the clouds, my Maker and Creator, with all Thy Saints, that I may unendingly glorify and praise Thee with Thy Eternal Father and Thy all-holy and good and life-giving Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
O Sovereign Lord Jesus Christ our God, Who alone hast authority to forgive men their sins, overlook in Thy goodness and love for men all my offences whether committed with knowledge or in ignorance, and make me worthy to receive without condemnation Thy divine, glorious, spotless, and life-giving Mysteries, not for punishment, nor for an increase of sins, but for purification and sanctification and as a pledge of the life and kingdom to come, as a protection and help, and for the destruction of enemies, and for the blotting out of my many transgressions. For Thou art a God of mercy and compassion and love for men, and to Thee we send up the glory, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
I know, O Lord, that I partake of Thy immaculate Body and precious Blood unworthily, and that I am guilty, and eat and drink judgment to myself by not discerning the Body and Blood of Thee my Christ and God. But taking courage from Thy compassion I approach Thee, for Thou hast said: “He who eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood abides in Me and I in him.” Therefore have compassion, O Lord, and do not make an example of me, a sinner, but deal with me according to Thy mercy; and let these Holy Things be for my healing and purification and enlightenment and protection and salvation and sanctification of body and soul, for the turning away of every phantasy and all evil practice and diabolical activity working subconsciously in my members, for confidence and love towards Thee, for reformation of life and security, for an increase of virtue and perfection, for fulfillment of the commandments, for communion with the Holy Spirit, as a provision for eternal life, and as an acceptable defense at Thy dread Tribunal, not for judgment or for condemnation.
I am not worthy, O Lord and Master, that Thou shouldest enter under the roof of my soul; but since Thou in Thy love for men dost will to dwell in me, I take courage and approach. Thou commandest: I will open wide the doors which Thou alone didst create, that Thou mayest enter with love as is Thy nature, enter and enlighten my darkened thought. I believe that Thou wilt do this, for Thou didst not banish the Harlot who approached Thee with tears, nor didst Thou reject the Publican who repented, nor didst Thou drive away the Thief who acknowledged Thy Kingdom, nor didst Thou leave the repentant persecutor (Paul) to himself; but all who had been brought to Thee by repentance Thou didst set in the company of Thy friends, O Thou Who alone art blessed always, now and to endless ages. Amen.
Lord Jesus Christ my God, remit, forgive, absolve and pardon the sins, offences and transgressions which I, Thy sinful, useless and unworthy servant have committed from my youth, up to the present day and hour, whether with knowledge or in ignorance, whether by words or deeds or intentions or thoughts, and whether by habit or through any of my senses. And through the intercession of her who conceived Thee without seed, the immaculate and ever-virgin Mary Thy Mother, my only sure hope and protection and salvation, make me worthy without condemnation to receive Thy pure, immortal, life-giving and dread Mysteries, for forgiveness of sins and for eternal life, for sanctification and enlightenment and strength and healing and health of soul and body, and for the blotting out and complete destruction of my evil reasonings and intentions and prejudices and nocturnal fantasies of dark evil spirits. For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory and the honour and the worship, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
I stand before the doors of Thy sanctuary, yet I do not put away my terrible thoughts. But O Christ our God, Who didst justify the Publican, and have mercy on the Canaanite woman, and didst open the gates of Paradise to the Thief, open to me the depths of Thy love for men, and as I approach and touch Thee, receive me like the Harlot and the woman with an issue of blood. For the one received healing easily by touching the hem of Thy garment, and the other by clasping Thy sacred feet obtained release from her sins. And I, in my pitiableness, dare to receive Thy whole Body. Let me not be burnt, but receive me even as these; enlighten the senses of my soul, and burn the stains of my sins: through the intercessions of her who bore Thee without seed, and of the Heavenly Powers, for Thou art blessed to the ages of ages. Amen.
I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief. And I believe that this is Thy pure Body and Thy own precious Blood. Therefore, I pray Thee, have mercy on me and forgive my transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, in word and deed, known and unknown. And grant that I may partake of Thy Holy Mysteries without condemnation, for the remission of sins and for life eternal. Amen.
I thank Thee, O Lord my God, for that Thou hast not rejected me, a sinner, but hast suffered me to be a partaker of Thy holy things. I thank Thee that, unworthy as I am, Thou hast enabled me to receive of Thy most pure and heavenly gifts. And yet moreover I beseech Thee, O Lord and Lover of mankind, who for our sakes didst die and rise again, and hast provided us these dread and life-giving mysteries unto the benefit and hallowing of our souls and bodies: Grant that these Thy gifts may be even unto me for the healing of soul and body, and the driving out of every adversary; for the enlightening of the eyes of my understanding, and peace for the powers of my soul; for faith unashamed, and love without dissimulation; for the fullness of wisdom, and the keeping of Thy commandments; for the increase of Thy divine grace, and an inheritance in Thy kingdom, that preserved by them in Thy holiness I may be ever mindful of Thy grace, and not henceforth live unto myself but unto Thee, our bountiful Lord.
And when I have departed this life in the hope of life everlasting, vouchsafe that I may enter into eternal rest, where the voice of them that flourish is unceasing, and the delight of them that behold the unsearchable beauty of Thy countenance knoweth no bounds. For Thou art the true desire and the ineffable joy of them that love Thee, O Christ our God, all creation doth sing Thy praise, for ever and ever. Amen.
Lord Christ our God, King of the ages and Creator of all, I thank Thee for all the blessings Thou hast granted me and for the communion of Thy pure and life-giving Mysteries. I pray Thee, therefore, gracious Lord and Lover of mankind, guard me under Thy protection and within the shadow of Thy wings; and grant me with a clear conscience till my last breath worthily to partake of Thy sacred Gifts for forgiveness of sins and for life eternal. For Thou art the Bread of Life, the Source of Holiness, the Giver of all that is good, and to Thee we send up glory, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
O Thou Who givest me willingly Thy Flesh for food, Thou Who art fire, and burnest the unworthy, scorch me not, O my Maker, but rather pass through me for the integration of my members, into all my joints, my affections, and my heart. Burn up the thorns of all my sins. Purify my soul, sanctify my mind; strengthen my knees and bones; Enlighten the simplicity of my five senses. Nail down the whole of me with Thy fear. Ever protect, guard, and keep me from every soul destroying word and act. Sanctify, purify, attune, and rule me. Adorn me, give me understanding, and enlighten me. Make me the temple of Thy Spirit alone, and no longer a habitation of sin: that having become Thy house by receiving Holy Communion, every evil spirit and passion may flee from me like fire. I bring to Thee as intercessors all the saints, the ranks of the Heavenly Hosts, Thy Forerunner, the wise Apostles, and Thy pure and immaculate Mother. Receive their prayers, my compassionate Christ. And make Thy slave a child of light. For Thou alone art our salvation, O Good One, and the radiance of our souls, and to Thee as our Lord and God as is right we all give glory day and night.
Lord Jesus Christ our God, may Thy sacred body be for me unto life everlasting, and Thy precious blood unto remission of sins. May this Eucharist be for me unto joy, health and gladness. And at Thy dread second coming, account me, a sinner, worthy to stand on the right hand of Thy glory: By the prayers of Thy most holy Mother, and of all the saints.
Most holy Mother of God, who art the light of my darkened soul; my hope, my refuge and shelter; my comfort and my joy: I give Thee thanks for that Thou hast suffered me, unworthy as I am, to be a partaker of the pure body and precious blood of Thy Son. Do Thou who didst bring forth the true light, enlighten the eyes of my understanding. Thou that gavest birth to the fountain of immortality, quicken me who am slain by sin. Thou who art all compassionate, O Mother of the merciful God, have mercy upon me, and bestow on me the spirit of remorse and a contrite heart. Give me lowliness of mind. Loose my captive thoughts. And vouchsafe that even unto my last breath I may without condemnation receive the hallowing of the most pure Sacrament unto the healing of soul and body. And grant me the grace of repentance and confession that I may praise and glorify Thee all the days of my life. For blessed art Thou and all glorious for ever and ever. Amen.
Some time before establishing the Sacrament of the Eucharist, Jesus Christ explained the necessity of it in His conversation concerning the Bread of Life. This conversation took place the day after feeding the crowd with five breads and seven fishes. The people came to Him expecting that He will continue to feed them on regular basis, but the Lord explained that the miracle with the five breads was just a prototype of a more important miracle in which they will partake of the Heavenly Bread. “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world” (John 6:51). The Jews evidently understood the words of Christ literally and began to ask each other, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” (John 6:52).
The Lord did not tell the Jews that they had misunderstood Him but with greater force and clarity reassured them: “Verily 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 at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him” (John 6:53-56).
His disciples also had difficulty accepting the words of Christ literally and said to each other: “This is a hard saying, who can understand it” (John 6:60). The Savior, so as to convince them of the possibility of such miraculous eating, indicated another miracle that would happen during His Ascension into Heaven, “Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life “ (John 6:61-63).
The Savior knows that His teaching about the Bread of Life requires faith. Not wanting that His words about the Bread of Life be understood “metaphorically,” He added, “there are some of you who do not believe” (John 6:64). His words are “spirit and life” because they do not speak of quenching the physical hunger but testify that he who partakes of His Body and Blood will have eternal life and will be resurrected for the Kingdom of glory on the last day. This will happen because those who partake of them enter into the most intimate communion with the Divinity of Jesus Christ.
The very establishment of the Sacrament of Eucharist took place during the Last Supper which is described by three Evangelists. In the Gospel of Matthew it is said: “As they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, `Take, eat; this is My body.' Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, `Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:26-28). In the Gospel of Luke we read: “Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me. Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you'” (Luke 22:19-20).
The words “This is My Body … this is My Blood” are completely clear and definite, and do not allow any other interpretation apart from the most direct one. They are in complete accordance with the promise given by the Savior during His speach about the Bread of Life.
Having given Communion to the disciples, the Lord commanded: “This do in remembrance of Me.” As the Apostle Paul instructs, the Mystery instituted at the Last Supper must be performed in remembrance of Jesus Christ until His Second Coming (1 Cor. 11:25-26). The necessity of the Sacrament of Eucharist for all subsequent generations of Christians follows also from the words of the Savior: “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, ye have no life in you.” Because of this, the Eucharist was received by the Church from the first days as the greatest mystery of salvation, and the institution of it is preserved with the greatest care and reverence.
Concerning the performance of Holy Communion in Apostolic times in the Church of Christ, we may read in the Acts of the Apostles that Christians “continued steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (2:42, 46; 20:6-7). The expression “breaking of bread” which is used repeadedly in the book of Acts and in other early Christian writings designates Communion.
In his epistle to the Corinthians the Apostle Paul reminds Christians that in the Eucharist they partake of the great mystery of union with the Lord: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread” (1 Cor. 10:16-17). And a little further on he adds, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes. Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world” (1 Cor. 11:26-30). In the quoted words the Apostle instructs us with what reverence and preparatory self-testing a Christian must approach this Sacrament because this is not simple food and drink but the reception of the true Body and Blood of Christ.
Since the time of the Apostles the “breaking of bread” took place on the “day of the Lord” (Kyriake) also called the “day of the Sun,” i.e. Sunday. This was the first day of the week, which commemorated the Resurrection of Christ. Gradually the informal “breaking of the bread” became a more elaborate Christian service with reading of Scripture, prayers and thanksgiving songs arranged in a well defined order. It was called the Liturgy, which means communal service or public prayer. Christians gathered to participate in the Liturgy, and all partook of Holy Communion. In the addendum of this pamphlet the reader will find two short descriptions of the Liturgy of the second and third centuries A.D.
As in Apostolic times, the Sacrament of the Eucharist is composed of two moments: the changing or transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of the Lord, and the Communion of these Holy Gifts. During the consecration, the priest repeats the words that the Lord uttered at the first Eucharist, “Take, eat …” After the priest has repeated these phrases, the choir sings, “We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we give thanks to Thee, O Lord, and we pray to Thee, O our God.” The priest, invoking the Holy Spirit upon the offered Gifts, blesses them with the prayer to God the Father: “Make this bread the precious Body of Thy Christ; and that which is in this cup, the precious Blood of Thy Christ; changing them by Thy Holy Spirit.” Here the bread and wine actually are changed into the Body and Blood by the coming down of the Holy Spirit. After this moment, although our eyes see bread and wine on the Holy Table, in their very essence, invisibly for sensual eyes, this is the true Body and true Blood of the Lord Jesus.
Each time we participate in the Divine Liturgy we should realize that here the miracle of Incarnation is repeated before our very eyes. Just as during the Conception the Holy Spirit descended to the womb of the Virgin Mary and made of her flesh the body of Jesus, so the same Spirit descends upon the bread and wine on the altar and transforms them into the Body and Blood of Jesus.
The Communion with our Lord Jesus Christ takes place at the end of the Divine Liturgy. This is the time when we personally meet with Jesus Christ and invite Him into our soul. Here the Incarnate Son of God, so to speak, transfuses His own precious, sacred and life-giving blood into our blood stream to give us new strength and new life. Communion can be likened to the partaking of the fruits of the Tree of Life, planted by God in the garden of Eden. In Heaven there also will be a Tree of Life, whose “leaves are for the healing of the nations,” as we are told by the book of Revelation (Gen. 2:9, Revelation 22:2). St. Isaac the Syrian thus writes about the mystery of Communion: “Blessed is he that has eaten of the Bread of love which is Jesus. While still in this world, he breathes the air of the resurrection, in which the righteous will delight after they rise from the dead.”
When we think of the greatness of Communion, a natural question arises in our mind: are we worthy of receiving Christ in us? The early Church Fathers never suggested that a Christian should refrain from taking Communion because of his feeling of unworthiness. One of the most ancient Christian documents, the Didache, says, “If anyone is holy, let him come [to Communion]; if he is not, let him repent and come.” We need to realize that we never will become worthy to receive Jesus Christ. Communion is not a matter of worthiness but of God's mercy. It is not a reward but a Divine gift! It is proper for us to sense unworthiness so that we will always remain humble and grateful to God.
However, some preparation for the partaking of the Eucharist is necessary, for it helps us to acquire the right attitude toward this great Sacrament. St. Paul writes, “Let a man examine himself and so eat of that Bread and drink of that Cup” (1 Cor. 11:28). Here are some specific suggestions for those wishing to take Communion.
1. Self-examination is something that should be practiced regularly by every Christian as he prays daily and reads God's word, and it becomes especially important before one aproaches the Chalice to receive Communion. The purpose of self-examination is to bring us to an awareness of our shortcomings. This awareness leads us to repentance and improvement.
2. On the morning before going to Liturgy to receive Communion we do not eat or drink anything. Prior to Communion there should be abstinence from meat and dairy products on Wednesdays and Fridays. During a fasting period one should observe abstinence from these products all the days. However, one thing we must remember is that there is no rigid connection between fasting and Communion. We must never allow an overemphasis on fasting to become a wall separating us from Christ Who wishes to renew us. We must never allow a self-righteous emphasis on so-called “rules of fasting” to destroy the all-important relationship with Jesus Christ. The Church Fathers emphasized that true fasting is to abstain from sin and evil.
3. The Orthodox Prayer Book contains some very moving prayers written by the Church Fathers that are designed to be read before and after Communion. All of these beautiful prayers contain the cry of humility, unworthiness, and penitence, as expressed by this sample: .“.. I am not worthy, Master and Lord, that You should enter under the roof of my soul. Yet inasmuch as You desire to live in me as the lover of men, I approach with boldness. You have commanded: let the doors be opened which You alone have made and You shall enter with Your love … You shall enter and enlighten my darkened reasoning. I believe that You will do this …” These prayers give us the proper attitude for the reception of Communion.
4. Repentance. One must approach Jesus with a plea for mercy and forgiveness. It is sincere faith and repentance, not perfection, that make us worthy of frequent Communion. Although it is not necessary to go to Confession before each Communion, if we receive Communion regularly it is still necessary to seek forgiveness through prayer. It is up the our father-confessor to decide how often we should go to Confession.
5. Forgiveness from those we have hurt should be sought before Communion. We must approach the Holy Table “with the fear of God, with faith and with LOVE.” We are bound to share with others the forgiving love we receive from Jesus. Love is the one thing we must pray for before coming to the Holy Table. No hostilities or grudges or dissension must be brought there. There must be penitence for lack of love. Thus, we prepare for Communion with self-examination, fasting, prayer, repentance and forgiveness.
The most wonderful thing about man is that he was created to contain God. This is the miracle of miracles! Each one of us was made to be a temple of God, a golden chalice, a tabernacle of God's presence. The infinitely great God Who revealed Himself in Jesus as the great God of love waits to take up residence in us. He stands at the door of our soul and knocks until we hear His voice and His knock to open and let Him come in to sup with us in the heavenly banquet (Rev. 3:20). He will not rest until He has invaded our heart and made it His throne.
Thus the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist are not just signs or symbols reminding us of the Last Supper, as the Protestants think, but they are the actual Body and Blood of Christ, as the Savior said, “For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed,” and, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.”
The Eucharistic sacrifice is not a repetition of the Savior's Sacrifice on the Cross, but it is an offering of the sacrificed Body and Blood once offered by our Redeemer on the Cross. The sacrifice on Golgotha and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are inseparable, comprising a single sacrifice. When a Christian receives Holy Communion, he assimilates the redeeming act that Jesus Christ performed at the Cross.
In Communion we unite in the most intimate fashion with the Lord. Holy Communion nourishes our soul and body and aids our strengthening and growth of spiritual life. It serves for us as a pledge of the future resurrection and the eternally blessed life. All of this reminds us of the necessity to approach Holy Communion with the fear of God, faith and love. Amen.
The most ancient description of the Liturgy is preserved in chapters 65-67 of the First Apology by Justin the Philosopher who later became a martyr. This Apology (defense of the Christian faith) was written in the first half of the second century A.D. Another very ancient description is found in the book called the Constitutions of the Holy Apostles. Although this book has some later additions (possibly made as late as the fourth century), most of its content goes back to the first and second centuries A.D. Here are some excerpts from these very important ancient documents.
After we have thus cleansed (baptized) the person who believes and has joined our ranks, we lead him in to where those we call “brothers” are assembled to offer prayers in common for ourselves, for him who has just been enlightened, and for all men everywhere. It is our desire, now that we have come to know the truth, to be found worthy of doing good deeds and obeying the commandments, and thus to obtain eternal salvation.
When we finish praying, we greet one another with a kiss (In our Liturgy this moment is preserved in the exclamation of the Deacon: “Let us love one another …”).
Then bread and a cup containing wine mixed with water are brought to him who presides over the brethren (the Bishop or the Priest). He takes them and offers prayers, glorifying the Father of all things through the name of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Then he utters a lengthy thanksgiving because the Father has judged us worthy of these gifts. (Justin refers to the prayers that the priest reads when the choir sings “We hymn Thee, we bless Thee…” In the Liturgy of St. Basil these prayers are longer than those in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, but in ancient times these prayers were always improvised and were very lengthy. When the prayer of thanksgiving is ended, all the people present give their assent with an “Amen!”).
When the president has given thanks and the people have all signified their assent, those whom we call deacons distribute the bread and the wine with water, over which the thanksgiving has been spoken, to each of those present. They also carry them to those who are absent … (Note that all Christians took Communion, even those who were ill and were unable to come to the service).
This food we call “Eucharist,” and no one may share it unless he believes that our teaching is true, and has been cleansed in the bath of forgiveness for sin and rebirth, and lives as Christ taught. For we do not receive these things as though they were ordinary food and drink. Just as Jesus Christ our Savior was made flesh through the word of God and took on flesh and blood for our salvation, so too (we have been taught) through the word of prayer that comes from him the food over which the thanksgiving has been spoken becomes the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus, in order to nourish and transform our flesh and blood. For, in the memoirs which the apostles composed and which we call Gospels, they have told us that they were commissioned thus: Jesus took bread and, having given thanks, said: “Do this in memory of Me. This is my body,” and in a like manner he took the cup and, having given thanks, said: “This is My blood.” And He gave these to them …
Since that time, we constantly recall these events among ourselves. If we have anything, we help all who are in need, and we are constantly united with one another. And for all that we eat we thank the Maker of all through his Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. And on the day named after the sun, all who live in city or countryside assemble, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read for as long as time allows. When the lector has finished, the president addresses us, admonishing us and exhorting us to imitate the splendid things we have heard. Then we all stand and pray, and, as we said earlier, when we have finished praying, bread, wine, and water are brought up. The president offers prayers of thanksgiving, according to his ability, and the people give their assent with an “Amen!”
Next, the gifts over which the thanksgiving has been spoken are distributed, and each one shares in them, while they are also sent via the deacons to the absent brethren. The wealthy who are willing make contributions, each as he pleases, and the collection is deposited with the president, who aids orphans and widows, those who are in want because of sickness or some other reason, those in prison, and visiting strangers; in short, he takes care of all in need. The reason why we all assemble on Sunday is that it is the first day: the day on which God transformed darkness and matter and created the world, and the day on which Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the dead …
When you (this is an instruction to the new bishop) call an assembly of the Church as one that is the commander of a great ship, appoint the assemblies to be made with all possible skill, charging the deacons as mariners to prepare places for the brethren as for passengers, with all due care and decency. And first, let the building [of the church] be long, with its head to the east, with its vestries on both sides at the east end, and so it will be like a ship. In the middle let the bishop's throne be placed, and on each side of him let the presbytery [priests] sit down; and let the deacons stand near at hand, in close and small girt garments, for they are like the mariners and managers of the ship.
With regard to these, let the laity sit on the other side, (The services were very long, and the people were allowed to sit during the reading of the Old Testament and sermons) with all quietness and good order. And let the women sit by themselves. They also keeping silence. In the middle, let the reader stand upon some high place; let him read the books of Moses, of Joshua, of the Judges, and of the Kings and of the Chronicles, and those written after the return from the captivity; and besides these, the books of Job and of Solomon (Proverbs), and of the sixteen prophets. But when there have been two lessons severally read, let some other person sing the hymns of David [Psalms], and let the people join at the conclusions of the verses.
Afterwards let our Acts [book of the Acts of the Apostles] be read, and the Epistles of Paul our fellow-worker, which he sent to the churches under the conduct of the Holy Spirit. And afterwards let a deacon or a presbyter read the Gospels, both those which Matthew and John have delivered to you, and those which the fellow-workers of Paul received and left to you, Luke and Mark. And while the Gospel is read, let all the presbyters and deacons, and all the people, stand up in great silence; for it is written: “Be silent and hear, O Israel.” (In our Liturgy this corresponds to the exclamation of the Deacon: “Wisdom, let us attend!”)
In the next place, let the presbyters one by one, not all together, exhort the people, and the bishop in the last place, as being the commander. Let the porters stand at the entries of the men, and observe them. Let the deaconesses also stand at those of the women, like shipmen. For the same description and pattern was both in the tabernacle of the testimony and in the temple of God. But if any one be found sitting out of his place, let him be rebuked by the deacon, as a manager of the foreship, and be removed into the place proper for him; for the Church is not only like a ship, but also like a sheepfold. For as the shepherds place all the brute creatures distinctly, I mean goats and sheep, according to their kind and age, and still every one runs together, like to his like; so is it to be in the Church. Let the young persons sit by themselves, if there be a place for them; if not, let them stand upright. But let those that are already stricken in years sit in order. For the children which stand, let their fathers and mothers take them to them. Let the younger women also sit by themselves, if there be a place for them; but if there be not, let them stand behind the women. Let those women which are married, and have children, be placed by themselves; but let the virgins, and the widows, and the elder women, stand or sit before all the rest; and let the deacon be the disposer of the places, that every one of those that comes in may go to his proper place, and may not sit at the entrance. In like manner, let the deacon oversee the people, that nobody may whisper, nor slumber, nor laugh, nor nod; for all ought in the church to stand wisely, and soberly, and attentively, having their attention fixed upon the word of the Lord.
After this, let all rise up with one consent, and looking towards the east, after the catechumens (those preparing for baptism) and penitents are gone out, pray to God eastward, who ascended up to the heaven of heavens to the east; remembering also the ancient situation of paradise in the east, from whence the first man, when he had yielded to the persuasion of the serpent, and disobeyed the command of God was expelled. As to the deacons, after the prayer is over, let some of them attend upon the oblation of the Eucharist, ministering to the Lord's body with fear. Let others of them watch the multitude, and keep them silent. But let that deacon who is at the high priest's hand say to the people, Let no one have any quarrel against another; let no one come in hypocrisy. Then let the men give the men, and the women give the women, the Lord's kiss. But let no one do it with deceit, as Judas betrayed the Lord with a kiss. After this let the deacon pray for the whole Church, for the whole world, and the several parts of it, and the fruits of it; for the priests and the rulers, for the high priest and the king, and the peace of the universe.
After this let the high priest pray for peace upon the people, and bless them, as Moses commanded the priests to bless the people, in these words: “May the Lord bless you, and keep you. May the Lord make His face to shine upon you, and give you peace.” Let the bishop pray for the people, and say: “O Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance which Thou has obtained with the precious blood of Thy Christ, and has called a royal priesthood, and an holy nation.”
After this, let the sacrifice [the offering of the bread and wine] follow, the people standing and praying silently; and when the oblation has been made, let every rank by itself partake of the Lord's Body and precious Blood in order, and approach with reverence and holy fear, as to the body of their king. Let the women approach with their heads covered, (The covering of the head by the woman is an Apostolic tradition) as is becoming the order of women; but let the door be watched, lest any unbeliever, or one not yet initiated, come in.
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