(Jesus Said): “Truly”, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you…For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed” (John 6:53, 55).
When we receive Holy Eucharist (Thanksgiving), we are receiving Jesus Himself. This tangible experience and action allows us the opportunity to come into direct communion with God Himself, and therefore we give thanks (Eucharistia) for this meeting with Our Lord which could bestow a blessing and strength upon our own lives. However the manner in which we conduct ourselves to receive Holy Eucharist determines whether this communion will be for us a blessing and the bestowing of strength upon our life, or condemning ourselves by receiving the Eucharist in a careless manner and intent.
For according to the Orthodox Church, the bread and wine offered at the Divine Liturgy, is consecrated by the descent of the Holy Spirit, (through prayer), who changes it into the real Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Thus this change is not symbolic, but is an awesome, mystical experience of the Holy Spirit to which we must be adequately prepared.
In stating the Church’s perspective, it should be noted, that preparing for Holy Eucharist is not simply limited to fasting of foods. More importantly, it requires an honest self-examination of ourselves and our lives, in order to recognise any personal shortcomings and errors which may have led us to sin. Having examined our conscience and recognising our mistakes, preparing for Holy Eucharist truly begins with a genuine, heartfelt repentance, a cleansing of the body and soul through the rite (mystery) of Holy Confession and fasting, and the reading of certain prayers before and after approaching the Holy Chalice.
Naturally for many people, the thought of confessing to a priest can be daunting: some feeling embarrassed and ashamed, others indignant at the thought of having to bare their souls and darkest secrets to another person. And yet God is pure love. In inviting us to formally confess, He does not want us to be humiliated or ‘exposed’. Instead, He gives us the chance to acknowledge our transgressions and be truly forgiven and cleansed so that we can be transformed and guided towards a higher state of being.
Many people mistakenly believe that they can confess directly to God through personal prayer without the presence of a Father Confessor. Whilst private prayer is important and encouraged, it is not the same as Confession. Holy Confession is actually a Holy Mystery (Rite) not just a human process or experience. In fact, it is something which dates back to the days of Christ Himself when He sent out His apostles to evangelise the world, giving them authority on earth to release the sins of anyone who was truly repentant, making the Mystery of ‘Holy Confession’ also the Mystery of ‘Holy Forgiveness’; [Cf. the Holy scriptures; ‘….. “And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matt. 16:19].
During Confession, the Holy Spirit descends and participates, in order to forgive our sins and cleanse our souls. It is yet another direct experience of God which helps us to establish an eternal relationship with Him. What makes it especially amazing is that any sins confessed during Holy Confession are permanently erased and therefore omitted from our Final Judgement. It is most beneficial to have one spiritual father to whom we confess regularly, and with whom we can have an open, ongoing relationship.
Our spiritual father can also help guide us in our spiritual life with advice specific to our personal circumstances. The first confession is usually the hardest. Regardless of the number and severity of sins; they can be forgiven. Many people are not clear what constitutes a sin and therefore some believe that they do not ever sin, while others feel they have sinned so greatly that there is no point in even asking for forgiveness.
Either way, people are not taking the opportunity to allow God to participate in their lives and forgive them; to cleanse them and help them advance spiritually. The Church teaches that man’s purpose is to advance through certain levels of spiritual purification and enlightenment by participating in the mysteries of the Church, in order to reach his ultimate potential in Christ; becoming deified through the Holy Spirit and becoming a Saint. In fact, the Orthodox Church has countless numbers of Saints who became so, by doing exactly that – fasting, praying, confessing and partaking of Holy Communion (Eucharist).
In this regard, it should be remembered that the Orthodox Church is the original, eternal Church of Christ, which has always existed, but was revealed to us during Christ’s earthly ministry. It is the Truth which other spiritualities and religions try to mimic.
BASIC SUMMARY OF GUIDELINES TOWARDS A SOUND EUCHARISITIC PREPARATION
*(1.) Only Baptised Orthodox Christians are to receive Holy Eucharist. The Orthodox Church does not allow Non-Orthodox to receive Eucharist: (This also applies to Non-Orthodox Christians who are married to Orthodox Christians).
*(2.) Fast before receiving Eucharist. You must refrain from eating or drinking on the morning before receiving Holy Eucharist.
*(3.) Make every effort to arrange to see a Priest for Confession, particularly if you only receive Holy Eucharist very infrequently.
*(4.) Make some effort to engage in some sort of preparatory prayers the night before receiving Eucharist and then offer prayers of thanksgiving after receiving the Holy Communion – (this pamphlet further on has provided some useful prayers for this purpose).
*(5.) When you come forward to receive, please state your name. This is because when you receive Holy Eucharist, you are reaffirming your baptismal commitment to Christ and the Church, (to which the priest will say a short prayer on your behalf). Furthermore, your name is sacred, and it was sanctified on the day of your baptism.
*(6.) Try to remain silent and prayerful while waiting for your turn. Use this time as a time to pray, not as a time for gossip or idle chatter. One suggestion is to say the ‘Jesus Prayer’: “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy upon me a sinner” silently under your breath or in your mind.
*(7.) Make sure to remove from your lips any lipstick or balms before receiving the Holy Eucharist.
PRAYERS BEFORE HOLY COMMUNION
Prayer of St John Chrysostom
I believe, Lord, and I confess that you are truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first. I also believe that this is indeed your pure Body, and this is indeed your precious Blood. I ask you, therefore, have mercy on me and forgive me my transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, in word and deed, in knowledge and in ignorance; and make me worthy, uncondemned, to partake of your pure mysteries, for the forgiveness of sins and life eternal. Amen
Verses of St Symeon Metaphrastes
Behold, I approach for holy Communion; Maker, burn me not as I partake; For you are fire burning the unworthy; But cleanse me from every impurity.
Of your mystical Supper, Son of God, receive me today as a partaker; for I will not speak of the mystery to your enemies; I will not kiss you as did Judas; but as the Thief do I confess you; remember me, Lord, in your kingdom.
Tremble, mortal, as you behold the deifying Blood; for it is a burning coal consuming the unworthy. The Body of God both deifies and nourishes me; It deifies the spirit and wondrously nourishes the mind.
You have smitten me with yearning, Christ, and by your divine love you have changed me; but consume my sins with immaterial fire, and make me worthy to be filled with delight in you, that leaping for joy, Gracious One, I may magnify your first and second comings. Into the splendour of your Saints how shall I, the unworthy one, enter? For if I dare to enter the bridal chamber, my clothing betrays me, for it is not a wedding garment, and I shall be bound and cast out by the Angels. Cleanse the defilement of my soul, Lord, and save me in your loving kindness.
Loving Master, Lord Jesus Christ my God, let not these holy gifts be to me for judgement through my unworthiness, but for the purification and sanctification of both soul and body, and as a pledge of the life and kingdom to come. For it is good for me to cling to God, and to place in the Lord the hope of my salvation
THANKSGIVING PRAYERS AFTER HOLY COMMUNION
Glory to you, O God
Glory to you, O God
Glory to you, O God
I thank you, Lord my God, for not rejecting me a sinner, but making me worthy to be a partaker of your holy things. I thank you for making me, who am unworthy, worthy to partake of your pure and heavenly gifts. But loving Master, who died for us and rose again and bestowed on us these your dread and life-giving mysteries, for the benefit and sanctification of our souls and bodies, grant that they may be to me for the healing of both soul and body, for the averting of everything hostile, for the illumination of the eyes of my heart, for the peace of my spiritual powers, for faith unashamed, for love unfeigned, for the fullness of wisdom, for the observing of your commandments, for the increase of your divine grace, and the attainment of your kingdom; so that protected by them in your holiness I may always remember your grace and no longer live for myself, but for you our Master and benefactor.
And so when I have departed this life in the hope of eternal life may I attain to everlasting rest, where the sound of festival is unceasing, and the pleasure is endless of those who behold the indescribable beauty of your countenance. For you are that which is truly desired, and the inexpressible gladness of those who love you, Christ our God, and all creation praises you for ever. Amen.
Prayer of St Basil the Great
Master, Christ our God, King of the ages and creator of all, I thank you for all the good things you have bestowed on me and for the partaking of your pure and life-giving mysteries. I ask you therefore, good and loving one, guard me under your protection and in the shadow of your wings; and grant that with a pure conscience until my last breath I may worthily partake of your holy things for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. For you are the bread of life, and the source of holiness, and the giver of good, and to you we offer glory, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
May your holy Body, Lord Jesus Christ our God, be to me for eternal life, and your precious Blood for the forgiveness of sins. And may this Eucharist be to me for joy, health and gladness; and in your fearful second coming make me, a sinner, worthy to stand at the right hand of your glory, through the intercessions of your all-pure Mother and all your Saints. Amen.
All-holy Lady Theotokos, the light of my darkened soul, my hope, protection, refuge, consolation and joy, I thank you for making me, who am unworthy, worthy to partake of the pure Body and precious Blood of your Son. But you who gave birth to the true light, enlighten the spiritual eyes of my heart; you who conceived the source of immortality, give life to me who am dead through sin; you the compassionate Mother of the merciful God, have mercy on me and give me compunction and contrition in my heart, humility in my reasoning, and the recall of my thoughts from captivity. And make me worthy until my last breath to receive without condemnation the sanctification of the pure mysteries, for the healing of both soul and body; and grant me tears of repentance and confession, so that I may praise and glorify you all the days of my life. For you are blessed and glorified for ever. Amen.
Holy Communion should not be taken if one has not been for Holy Confession. The frequency of Communion and Confession and the fasting required can be discussed with your spiritual father.
There should be no food or drink consumed for at least 6 hours prior to taking Holy Communion.
Also, when communing children, do not claim that the Eucharist is chocolate or any sort of food, for this is a grave blasphemy and one that needs to be confessed. Furthermore do not let the child being communed, to spit out the Holy Eucharist, otherwise it is the priest’s and your responsibility to consume the spat out Eucharist. And if the Eucharist falls upon clothes, those clothes must be washed by hand, and the washing water poured in an area of garden where no one treads upon. (Technically speaking, the clothes must never be worn again, but ritually burned.)
Furthermore, there are no risks of “catching” illnesses and viruses from receiving Holy Communion, as demonstrated by the priest who is the first and last to partake of Holy Eucharist. In actual fact, the conclusion of every Divine Liturgy requires the priest to finish off all of the remaining Eucharist in a prayer service after the Divine Liturgy.
As one can see the seriousness and reverence by which Orthodox Christians hold and must hold towards the great and awesome Mystery of the Holy Eucharist.