Concerning Communion: A Letter from Priestmonk Callistos



by Priestmonk Kallistos

This short pamphlet by no means is meant to be a complete exposition concerning the Church’s teachings on the Eucharist, that is, Holy Communion. Rather, it is to serve as a guideline for members and visitors of our parish, and to answer some often asked questions.

We should first remember the words of Saint Paul in his letter to the Corinthians:

“Wherefore, whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.”

(I Corinthians 11:27-30)

The first question always asked is: How frequently should an Orthodox Christian partake of Holy Communion? This is a difficult question for pastors to answer in an inspiring way. We are taught by the Church that frequent Communion, under certain circumstances, is most desired for a sound Christian life. But it is also not wrong to attend the Liturgy without receiving Holy Communion each time. It is certainly less harmful than taking Holy Communion without preparation, without repentance, without a longing. for God and a fear of God, and, without taking time for thanksgiving afterwards to meditate on such a gift of unspeakable holiness. Each of us – clergy, monastics, and lay people – must not forget that it is possible to receive Holy Communion “unto condemnation”, as we call to mind the words of Saint Paul given above.

The measure of grace we receive from Holy Communion depends on our preparation, as much as on God’s gift, which is not, as if it were, automatically given. The tradition of the Church is that the preparation and the disposition of our hearts are more important than the frequency. with which we receive Holy Communion. The days on which we partake of the Lord’s Body and Blood must be, kept in our hearts as special and memorable. Frequent Communion means a greater spiritual effort for each individual or for the whole family.

We call to mind.Christ’ s words to. His Disciples:

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and. drink His blood, ye have no life in you. He who eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood ,hath. eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh, is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my” flesh, and. drinketh my blood, -dwelleth in me, and I in him.” (John 6:53-56)

Some practical questions concerning our preparation to receive the most precious Body and Blood of Christ are here set forth:

1)    Receiving Holy Communion constitutes our member­ship in the Church, that is, in one being an Orthodox Christian. Only Baptized and Chrismated Orthodox Christians are permitted, to receive. And, Orthodox Christians are not permitted to partake of communion in churches which are not Orthodox. Should this happen, it is a grave sin – which is forgivable if done in ignorance. As we say in the Creed: “In One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, Church. I confess one baptism for the remission of sins.”

2)    Jesus Christ instructed His Disciples that, in order to overcome the temptations of the Devil and of the world, one must fast and pray: “This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:21)

The Orthodox Church sets a minimum standard for Her children, that we should fast on Wednesdays and Fridays; and of, course, during fast periods before Great Feasts of’ the Church.   We also must fast from food and drink, beginning the night before receiving Holy Communion. That is, if we are preparing to receive: Holy Communion on a Sunday, we would fast from bedtime on Saturday evening until the time we receive on Sunday, at Liturgy. Exceptions are made for individuals who are elderly, sickly, those who have to take medications , young children, and pregnant or nursing ,mothers.  But these situations should always be discussed with one’s parish priest in Confession.

The Church asks of her children who are married to refrain from marital relations the day. before and the day of receiving Holy Communion. Also, women who are having their menstrual period are not permitted to receive Holy Communion on those days.

Women should have their heads covered when receiving Holy Communion.

3)     Every Orthodox Christian is asked ‘to confess his’ sins before approaching Holy Communion – to show his unworthiness and remorse for his sins, and to ask for prayers of the priest. The Sacrament of Confession is greatly misunderstood, if not feared, by many Orthodox Christians, because of pride and lack of trust in God.  How to take Confession should be discussed privately with one’s parish priest so that doubts and fears can be allayed. The priest is not a judge.

Also, as part of our preparation to receive Holy Communion, each Orthodox Christian should read the appointed Preparation Prayers for Holy Communion, as best he can. These can be read either the evening before, or in the morning on day of receiving Holy Communion.

4)     One should receive Holy Communion in one’s own parish. It is not appropriate for Orthodox Christians to receive Communion when visiting other parishes where one is not known by the Pastor. If such a need is necessary while traveling, arrangements can be made with the priest prior to the Liturgy.

5)     Last note on this subject is, that due to the fact that many Orthodox bishops (“jurisdictions”) have fallen to the error of ecumenism, it has been decided by the Holy Synod, of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia that her children are permitted to receive Holy Communion only in parishes and monasteries within the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.’

Much more could be said concerning this great gift of Life and Sacrament of the Church – the Lord’s Body and Blood. But, as was stated in the opening paragraph, this is just a brief guideline for members of our parish. Should there be any other questions, or for a deeper explanation concerning the material discussed in this, pamphlet, these, should be discussed privately with your priest.

Saint John Chrysostom Russian Orthodox Church
Saint Louis  Missouri
Under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
August 1991