Take, Eat – But How Often?
I received a call from a parishioner asking:
“I see so many Orthodox Christians coming each Sunday for Holy Communion. Are they all observing the rules that I thought were necessary before receiving?”
In essence she doubted that everyone was fasting according to the rules that she had learned from her mother. For instance, “Are they really fasting three days (or perhaps a week) before Holy Communion and are they abstaining from eating or swallowing anything on Sunday morning? Have they all cleansed themselves morally and spiritually through self- examination and Holy Confession and have they forgiven everyone that has wronged them? Have they prepared themselves mentally by abstaining from lewd entertainments and by reading the Bible and other edifying books?”
And the final question:
“Are we supposed to receive Holy Communion so often? Don’t we denigrate the Sacrament by being too familiar with it? “
According to the Book of Acts chapter 27:35 the early Christians would gather daily in the temple and from home to home “breaking bread.” The Breaking of the Bread” is the expression used in the New Testament to indicate the Eucharist or Holy Communion. In fact, for a period of time Christians would gather for an evening meal and celebrate the Eucharist or Divine Liturgy at the conclusion of the meal. Read St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians to see this practice. In chapter 11:17-34 he was chastising them for not waiting until everyone had arrived to begin the evening meal.
Canons or Church rules formulated in the Fourth Century presuppose that Christians were receiving Holy Communion every Sunday. Deacons were ordered to visit those who missed two Sunday in a row in order to give them Holy Communion at home, since they must be sick if they didn’t attend the Liturgy and receive Holy Communion every Sunday.
The Orthodox Church does celebrate the Divine Liturgy or Eucharist every “First Day of the Week” or Lord’s Day that in present day English is called Sunday. We can even celebrate the Eucharist every day of the year except Good Friday if there is a congregation that will respond Amen to the prayers.
Presently we are encouraging the faithful to receive every week since this is the reason for the Eucharist. We need spiritual food on a regular, weekly basis. In so doing we are keeping with the practice of the New Testament Church. We need to receive Jesus Christ through Holy Communion to continue our growth in love and faith. It is with our Lord and through Him that we can bring His peace and forgiveness to all.
It is a comforting sight seeing so many stepping forward every Sunday answering the invitation of the priest, “With the fear of God, faith and love draw near.” This is our weeklyaltar call.
Every Lord’s day we are invited to receive Him. Not to respond to this call would be an act of indifference, irreverence and ingratitude.
What Fasting Rule Should We Follow?
In all honesty there are almost as many fasting rules as there are individuals. So, let us set forth a few basic principles. Fasting is to prepare us and not impede us to receive Christ in Holy Communion on a weekly basis. “Being “worthy” for Holy Communion does not mean being sinless, but being cleansed. It is not legalism but commitment to walk in righteousness before God.” (Orthodox Study Bible p.394) Fasting from certain foods for certain days does not earn us extra days in God’s Kingdom.
Fasting is, however, an important discipline advanced by Holy Scripture and attested to by the Saints. It trains us in will power. It is the exercise that strengthens the will. As we “push away” from certain foods we gain the will power to “push away” from sin and temptation.
Fasting protects our will power from becoming flabby and sharpens our spiritual discernment. The more we train ourselves in fasting, the more strength we will have to resist temptation and the more resolve we will have to do that which we know is right.
The Church, adopting the Jewish tradition of fasting twice a week, has established Wednesdays and Fridays as fasting days. Fasting is the opposite of feasting that denotes joy, celebration. Fasting denotes sadness and contrition.
Wednesday is a sad day because it reminds us that we, like Judas, betray the Lord more often than we would like to admit. Friday is a day of contrition because we remember that we, like the Romans and Jews, crucify our Lord. We kill Him within us each time we say, “Lord, you may be saying to do one thing, but I am going to do it my way, not your way!” In effect we are kicking Him out of our lives or “ridding” ourselves of Him, Who is both the authors and sustainer of life.
On Wednesdays and Friday we are to abstain from at least meat (which includes pork and chicken). If you want to step up a level, you can also abstain from fish and dairy products on Friday. Remember that there are “Fast-Free” weeks when we do not fast, such as “Bright Week” following Pasha, and the weeks following Pentecost, Epiphany, etc. for on these weeks we are still celebrating the joy of the Feastday.
A Minimal Fasting Rule in Preparation for Weekly Reception of Holy Communion
1. Maintain the fast on Wednesdays and Fridays.
2. Abstain from eating or swallowing, chewing, smoking anything on Sunday morning and receive every week. If you health needs demand that you eat or drink something with your medication, then, of course, feel free to do so. (Don’t make it a “full-blown” breakfast, however.) This is how your priests fast.
3. If you receive only once a month or less, then add fasting from meat on Saturday.
But this is only a part of the preparation for Holy Communion.
The first thing that you must do is to “make up” or forgive everyone and anyone that has wronged you, and ask for forgiveness from those that you have wronged. In other words, we are to be at peace with our neighbor.
Our Lord said,
“If you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23,24)
Secondly, prepare yourselves mentally and spiritually by studying Scripture and by thoughtful and honest prayer. Cleanse yourself physically and dress yourself with “good clothes” and thereby “psych” yourself up.
You are going to meet the King of the Universe! You are going to receive Jesus Christ into your body! You are going to be touched by the Mighty God and healed and strengthened! You are going to receive the greatest honor that can be given. You are going to have an audience with the Almighty God! You are going to stand in His presence, receiving His blessings and listening to His voice and instruction!
Nothing less is happening every Sunday at the Eucharist.
Yes, by all means prepare yourself, lest you be unable to fathom the privileges that are being given to you. Accept, whole-heatedly, joyfully, humbly the invitation, “With the fear of God, faith and love draw near.” Step forward in commitment recognizing the overpowering might of God and in complete faith and trust…
“Love the Lord your God
with all your heart,
with all your soul, and
with all your mind.
This is the first and great commandment.” Matthew 22:37
Fr. Thomas J. Paris