According to St Ignatius of Antioch (+ 107 A.D.), Holy Communion is the “Medicine of Immortality”. Our Lord Himself tells us that if we do not eat His Body and drink His Blood, we have no life in us (cf. John 6:53), and He also tells us that “Those who eat My Flesh and drink My Blood abide in Me, and I in them” (John 6:56). Our Lord invites us to be united with Him at every Divine Liturgy by receiving Holy Communion - His Body and Blood.
But, how frequently should we receive Holy Communion? Unfortunately, due to historical circumstances, some have come to believe that receiving Holy Communion a couple of times a year is sufficient. They have forgotten, however, that the reception of Holy Communion is the fulfillment and end-purpose of every Divine Liturgy and, that it is the means par excellence of achieving the goal of Orthodox spiritual life – remember, if we do not eat His Body and drink His Blood, we have no life in us (cf. John 6:53). The goal and purpose of the Orthodox Christian life is to be united with the Lord and to become increasingly like Him, little by little by His Grace. Ideally then, we should receive Holy Communion at every Divine Liturgy and, perhaps, even Confess before each Liturgy! In practice, however, the Church advises us to receive the Sacraments ‘frequently’ and always under spiritual guidance.
The best way, then, of ascertaining the frequency that we should receive Holy Communion is to simply discuss it with our Father Confessor. The more our strengths and weaknesses are known, the more guidance can be given as to how much ‘medicine’ is required for healing, renewal, and growth.
When children are baptized in the Orthodox Church as infants, and raised in the Church, their parents, grandparents and godparents have just as much responsibility to feed the children’s souls as they have to feed their bodies. One of the most vital sources of this spiritual nourishment is bringing the children to the Divine Liturgy and Holy Communion at least every Sunday. A person does not need to understand how Holy Communion provides nourishment for it to be effective, any more than it is necessary to understand the process of digestion for regular food to be effective. If people do not eat - whether a child or adult - they become weak, malnourished and may die. Likewise, our souls become weak, withered and may die without spiritual food. Children who attend Divine Liturgy every week since infancy learn at a very early age that receiving Holy Communion is something truly special, and they look forward to it with eager anticipation.
Our preparation for Holy Communion.
It is a truly awesome and an amazing privilege to be united with the Lord by partaking of His Holy Gifts, and so we must not approach casually, frivolously, or without adequate preparation. We prepare ourselves by prayerfully trying to cleanse ourselves of our sins, so that we might be suitable temples for the Lord to dwell in, for He wishes that we will allow Him to make His home in our hearts and bodies. He says to us: “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me” (Revelation 3:20).
We are cleansed by sincere repentance, by Holy Confession, by fasting, by saying the Prayers Before and After Holy Communion (see http://www.goyouth.org.au/content/dailyprayers.php ), and by prayerfully approaching the Holy Gifts, consciously aware that we are partaking of Christ’s Body and Blood and becoming united with Him. The Lord offers us a priceless gift - Himself! This is the best gift in the world - there is nothing better! He asks of us that we be willing to accept His gift of Himself, that He offers to us at His great Banquet Feast, and to properly prepare ourselves to become living temples of His Divine Presence.
St Paul cautions us about receiving Holy Communion in an unworthy manner (carelessly or without adequate preparation), saying: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” (1 Corinthians 11:27-30).
Again, the best way to prepare for Holy Communion is to always approach according to the specific spiritual guidance given to us by our Father Confessor.
Rev. Chris Dimolianis
Parish Priest of St Efstathios Sth Melbourne - (VIC)