THE PAN-ORTHODOX EPISCOPAL ASSEMBLY FOR BRITain AND IRELAND
ON PREPARATION FOR AND RECEPTION OF HOLY COMMUNION
Holy Communion is the most unique act of the Church. It is the act par excellence where the Church is realised and revealed. The faithful who belong to the different Orthodox Churches in this country, and with different existing practices, should be able to receive Holy Communion together, wherever and whenever the Divine Eucharist is celebrated. There is a real need for a common approach in preparation for Communion if misunderstandings and distress are to be avoided. It is hoped that the recommendations given here will contribute to the development of a common understanding of this vital question.
1. That it be considered normal practice for the faithful frequently to participate in Holy Communion
Those who have been incorporated into the Body of Christ by Holy Baptism are sustained in their life in Christ by receiving the Life-Giving Mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ. We consider that it would be a positive step if lay people would understand partaking of Holy Communion as a normal part of the life of an Orthodox Christian rather than something only to be done during the fasts.
Indeed the Lord invites us to partake of His Body and Blood repeatedly: “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life” (Jn. 6:53-54). These words are spoken in the present form and refer to a continuous action.
Most importantly regular communion preserves and protects the faithful from the temptations and devices of the enemy.
At the same time, the faithful should not neglect the traditional forms of preparation for Holy Communion, and are encouraged to seek the advice of their parish priest or spiritual father on this matter.
2. That the faithful should be diligent in preparing for Holy Communion
The traditional preparation for receiving Holy Communion includes spiritual attentiveness, fasting, confession, reading certain prayers and, for those who are married, abstention from marital relations. These practices are designed to enable us to receive the Holy Mysteries with as great awareness as possible of the magnitude of the Gift offered to us, “unto remission of sins and life eternal”. There is, however, a danger of approaching the Chalice having fulfilled the necessary “conditions” for Holy Communion, feeling “worthy” and “entitled” but without the awareness of the essential need for sincere repentance and humility.
3. That there should be clarity regarding the fasting rules prior to Holy Communion
Fasting is not only about not eating. In the words of St John Chrysostom, fasting is “abstinence...from sins”. The “fast” he insists, “should be kept not by the mouth alone but also by the eye, the ear, the feet, the hands and all the members of the body”. In a similar manner St Basil states that it is useless to fast from food and yet to indulge in cruel criticism and slander: “You do not eat meat, but you devour your brother”.
For those faithful who observe the normal fasting days and seasons and partake regularly of Holy Communion, the only required fasting prior to Communion should be the Eucharistic fast, that is, complete abstinence from food and drink from the night before Communion until after the Liturgy. (Those with health issues that render this problematic should seek the advice of their priest).
In those cases where a person has little or no active involvement in Church life or with the four major fasts, the parish priest should advise them about how to prepare themselves by prayer and fasting according to the traditions of the Church before approaching the Holy Mysteries.
4. That the laity be made aware of the relationship between sacramental Confession and the Holy Eucharist.
Today in the Orthodox Church sacramental confession is usually linked with our participation in the Eucharist, since through this sacrament we receive Christ, who forgives and washes our sins through His precious Blood, and restores us again to communion with Him and each other. This is the fulfilment and completion of holy Confession.
For a person who is participating in confession on some regular basis and whose conscience is not burdened by grave sins it should not be considered as obligatory to confess before every Communion.
Parish priests should ensure that parishioners have the opportunity to confess as necessary and that the times and arrangements for confession are clear and well publicised.
5. That the faithful include prayers before and after Communion in their daily prayers
It is common for most Orthodox Christians to read prayers of preparation prior to the Liturgy and the prayers of thanksgiving just after. It would be a good idea to read one or several prayers of thanksgiving during the first part of the week after receiving Holy Communion on Sunday, and in the second part of the week to read the prayers of preparation. This would ignite an acute awareness of the Sacrament in the daily life of the faithful.
6. That the prayer: “I believe, O Lord, and I confess...” should be read aloud before Holy Communion at every Liturgy
This is perhaps one of the simplest ways to generate awareness of the Sacrament. Although this prayer of preparation does not belong to the Divine Liturgy, it would be instrumental in developing the appropriate attitude of awareness necessary for worthy participation of the Holy Gifts if it would be recited before Holy Communion by the presiding Bishop or priest, preferably together with the communicants, in the local language.
7. That prior to the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts a total fast of at least six hours should be observed.
Here a total fast consists of complete abstinence from food and drink from at least six hours before the Liturgy. A more extended period of abstinence, for example, from the night before, has special significance within the penitential context of Great Lent. However, this type of observance should not be insisted upon.
8. That parents should help their children to prepare for Holy Communion
The above recommendations do not exclude children. However, this is a particular area which needs special study and attention and should be carefully approached.
Parents should introduce preparation for Holy Communion from an early age, beginning with not feeding infants immediately prior to Communion. Parents also should bear in mind that it is important not to force their children (even babies) against their will to receive the Holy Gifts. This is both blasphemous and dangerous.
Preparation for the child’s first Confession is of particular importance and should be linked with the maturity of the child and his ability to take responsibility for his own actions. The example of the parents is of decisive importance.
9. That Holy Communion should in general be given only during the Divine Liturgy
The partaking of Holy Communion by the Orthodox faithful should only take place in the context of the Divine Liturgy as those who receive it actively participate in the the eucharistic sacrifice. The previously consecrated Body of our Lord is given in the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts and in certain exceptional circumstances, e.g. ill persons who cannot come to Church, the dying, etc. Whether and under what circumstances Communion can be given outside the Divine Liturgy is a matter for the discernment of the bishop.
 Literally - ‘the one eating my flesh and drinking my blood has eternal life’