St. Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church
Holy Communion

“Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. … for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.  But seek ye first the Kingdom of God…” (Mt 6:25-33)  These words of our Lord describe for us the unfailing and abundant provision of God for us.  We give so much of our time and energy and attention to arranging to meet our own worldly needs: food, clothing, shelter, etc.  And yet all this labor and anxiety is unnecessary, for our God, our heavenly Father, knows that we need these things and provides for us even as He provides for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.  All that we need God will provide.  Here is the first and basic lesson that is contained in these words, that God knows our needs and He provides them.  He does not give us all that we want, but rather He provides for us what we need.  And even if what we want is something we need, He gives it to us in the manner and time and place that He knows will be most beneficial to us.  This requires that we must trust God to provide for us and to abandon our own efforts to provide for ourselves.  If we learn to trust God in this manner and so receive all that He gives us with thanksgiving and contentment, then this will unerringly lead us into His Kingdom.

But there is a more important reason that God provides for us in this manner. He does not do this without reason – He provides for us all that we need in order that we might turn our attention, our time, energy and efforts towards that which is more important.  “Seek ye first,” our Lord says, “the Kingdom of God”  This is where our focus should be – not on the things of this world where all things fall into corruption and pass away, but rather on the things of the Kingdom of God where the treasure that we acquire is eternal and with us even after the world, this universe, has passed away.

In order to understand this saying a little better, let us look at how it worked out in the lives of the saints.  We could certainly point to many saints who received this great provision of God in their lives, however, the dependence upon God is quite clear in the lives of the desert ascetics.  They left the comforts and certainty of the world behind and pursued the Kingdom of God out into the harsh environment of the desert where food, water and even shelter were scarce.  In the desert they found that they were forced to depend upon God for all that was necessary and He did not fail them.  Today we remember one such desert father, Saint Onuphrius the Great.  Seeking the Kingdom of God, St Onuphrius followed his guardian angel out to a place in the desert far removed from the world.  This place was so barren that for a long time the saint “had eaten only earth, and, after that, when he had survived an intense struggle with demonic temptation and when his heart had become utterly established in the love for God, an angel had brought him bread to eat.  And besides that, through God’s gracious providence, a palm tree grew up at one side of his cell, that gave good dates and a spring of water began to flow there.  ‘But especially,’ said the saint, ‘ my food and drink are the sweet words of God.’” (Prologue of Ochrid)  When St Paphnutius, who had found St Onuphrius in the desert, asked whether he had received the Holy Mysteries, St Onuphrius answered that the angel of God brought him Communion every Saturday.  See how God provided not only the needs of this world for St Onuphrius but also provided the sustenance of the Most Holy Body and Most Precious Blood of Christ that is necessary for our salvation.  St Paphnutius, returning from his visit with St Onuphrius, encountered four more young men living the ascetic life.  When he asked them whether they had any chance of receiving the Mysteries, they told him that an angel of God came to them every Saturday and brought them Communion.  St Paphnutius remained with them until the following Saturday and witnessed this himself in the following manner: “When the Saturday dawned, the whole monastery was filled with an indescribable, heavenly fragrance.  While they were at prayer an angel of God in the form of a handsome young man, bright as lightning, appeared with the Holy Gifts.  Paphnutius was terrified and fell to the ground in fear, but they raised him up and he also received Communion at the angle’s hands.” (Prologue of Ochrid).

Here we see how God not only provides the worldly necessities for this life, but also provides the heavenly necessities for the life in the Kingdom of God – that is, the Most Holy Body and Most Precious Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Did not our Lord Himself tell us of the importance of this Mystery saying, “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.  Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath 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 that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me and I in him.” (John 6:53-56).  Holy Communion is a necessity of spiritual life and without it, according the very words of our Lord Jesus Christ, there is no life.

The Fathers tell us that it is by receiving the Holy Mysteries, we are literally united with Christ.  St Cyril of Jerusalem says: “…you, by partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ may be made of the same body and the same blood with him.  For thus we come to bear Christ in us, because His Body and Blood are distributed through our members.” He goes on to leave us no doubt as to the very literal nature of this Mystery saying, “Learn these things and be fully assured that what seems to be bread is not bread, though sensible to taste, but the Body of Christ; and that what seems to be wine is not wine though the taste will have it so, but the blood of Christ.”  Because of the importance of this Mystery for our salvation, the Fathers also tell us that we should receive Holy Communion as often as possible.  Do we not pray in the Lord’s prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread”?  Often in the writings of the fathers this is interpreted as a call for the daily reception of the Mysteries.  St Ignatius of Antioch says to us, “Endeavor to gather more often for the Eucharist and the glorification of God” and St Basil the Great likewise tells us, “It is good and extremely beneficial to partake and receive every day the Body and Blood of Christ.”

Even with this encouragement to receive the Mysteries frequently, there is no suggestion that we should approach the Chalice casually or without proper preparation.  There is no single method or regimen of preparation that is prescribed for all to follow.  It is certainly a universal expectation that we approach the Mysteries having fasted from all food and drink from the beginning of the day (midnight) but even then there are times and circumstances where that expectation is set aside (for example in illness).  There are also prescribed periods of strict fasting for those who do not receive the Mysteries regularly (3 days, a week, even 40 days), but again these expectations vary with the situation and should be applied by one’s spiritual father.  There are set prayer rules to be said prior to receiving the Mysteries, however, again they vary depending on the situation.  One thing, in the Russian Church, that is also nearly universal is that the sacrament of Confession is a necessary element of preparation for approaching Holy Communion.  With all of these different expectations how then should one prepare?

In this parish, the expectation is that those (adults) who wish to receive Holy Communion should follow this rule:  First, to cleanse the soul from all known sin by taking the sacrament of confession prior to the day one will receive.  Generally this means at the Vigil service the evening before, however, other arrangements can be made to accommodate one’s schedule.  In addition to making a good confession, one should fast from all food and drink from midnight onward.  In addition, for those who receive the Mysteries less than every other week, one should keep a strict fast on Friday and Saturday (which when added to the total fast on Sunday amounts to three days).  One should say at the very least the rule of preparation in the prayer book (which consists of psalms, a short canon and a collection of prayers), however, it is better to add to this preparation three canons (the Savior, the Mother of God and the Guardian Angel) and an akathist (the Savior, the Mother of God or the saint of the day).  The rule for children is relaxed according to the age and ability of the child, but it is never eliminated completely.  After receiving the Holy Mysteries, take a little of the bread and wine provided to cleanse your mouth in case a particle of the Gifts is not swallowed.  One who has received the Gifts must also say the prayers of the thanksgiving before going on to other things.  These prayers are read aloud in the Church during the veneration of the cross and so those who received should attend to them at this time.

Partaking of the Most Holy Body and Most Precious Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in the sacrament of Holy Communion is a necessary part of our salvation, for in this manner we are literally joined to the Body of Christ and He dwells within us.  This sacrament is so important that God sends His angels to give Holy Communion to those who are unable to receive them any other way as we saw in the lives of the saints.  Each one of us should receive the Holy Mysteries as often as possible, never neglecting the opportunity to receive.  Our Lord gives His own Body and Blood to us – let no one turn away from this all sufficient and necessary Gift.  By placing a priority on receiving Holy Communion we fulfill the commandment of our Lord to “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God…”

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