Orthodox America

Church Rules for Confession and Holy Communion

By Priest Gregory Naumenko

"If thou desirest, O man, to eat the Body of the Master, approach with fear lest thou be burnt, for It is fire."

"Behold, I approach the Divine Communion. O Creator, let me not be burnt by communicating, for Thou art Fire consuming the unworthy." (From the Prayers Before Holy Communion)

Those who desire to have Confession and to commune of the Holy Mysteries must prepare properly, according to the rules instituted by the Holy Orthodox Church. Namely:

Explanation: In the 32nd chapter of the Typicon (book of church rules) we read: "When one desires to commune of the Holy Mysteries of Christ, it is most proper for him/her to keep properly the entire previous week; to remain in fasting, prayer and complete sobriety from the previous Monday; and then, with fear and great reverence, to receive the Most precious Mysteries.

Explanation: During the entire Great Lent and Dormition Fast, we do not partake of meat, eggs, milk and fish (Fish is allowed only on the days of Annunciation and Palm Sunday, and, during the Dormition Fast, on Transfiguration. During the entire Nativity Fast and Apostles; Fast, we do not partake of meat, eggs or milk. It is allowable to lessen the fast only in the case of severe illness, for small children, the feeble and elderly, and for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.

Explanation: Communion of the most pure Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ is the highest form of communion with the Lord God. Communing is the completion, the culmination of our communion with God. If a person comes to the chalice without having gone through the struggle of prayer, through which he comes nearer to God, if he does not go through a process of ever-increasing interaction with God, then this leap, as it were, from noncommunion to the ultimate level of communion (i.e., Holy Communion) is too drastic. That person is unworthy at that point for the acceptance of the Body and Blood of the Lord, and for that person the Gifts become "fire, consuming the unworthy." In other words, for such a person, Communion brings not healing, but harm. This is why it is necessary to be at the Divine Services preceding Holy Communion, for they are one of the most important forms of interaction with God available to us, and thus an important component of our preparation.

Explanation: Since we must be in church on the eve of receiving Holy Communion, it is wise for us to have Confession at that time. In the evening there is no hurry; one can calmly and thoughtfully lay out one's thoughts. In the morning the priest is busy with the Proskomedia, and there is little time. Confession becomes hurried, incomplete. Only extreme need is cause enough to pull the priest away from the Proskomedia for morning Confession.

Explanation: One must definitely read "The Order of Preparation for Holy Communion" (found in the Jordanville Prayer Book).* Those who have not read these prayers should not partake of Holy Communion. The following should also be read before Holy Communion: 1) Supplicatory Canon to our Lord Jesus Christ 2) Supplicatory Canon to the Most Holy Theotokos 3) Canon to the Guardian Angel 4) Akathist to our Sweetest Lord Jesus Christ or Akathist to our Most Holy Lady Theotokos.

Explanation: The Church exhorts us to be in peace with everyone through the following words which are written in the prayers preparing us for Holy Communion: "If thou desirest, O man, to eat the Body of the Mastery, approach with fear, lest thou be burnt; for It is fire. And when thou drinkest the Divine Blood unto communion, first be reconciled to them that have grieved thee, then dare to eat the Mystical Food."

Explanation: We prepare ourselves with fasting for the partaking of the Holy Gifts. The final period before Communion we intensify our abstention, and eat and drink nothing. Those who cannot do without certain medication may take it with Holy Water that morning. Small children may eat before Communion in the morning. The sick (for example, diabetics) and those who are weak can receive a blessing from their spiritual father (priest) to eat a small amount the morning of Communion.

Explanation: The Hours are part of the cycle of services. They are also an important part of the process of preparation for Holy Communion for the same reason outlined above.

Explanation: The Church follows the instruction of the Apostle Paul, who says in his first epistle to the Corinthians (II:4-5): Every man praying or prophesying having his head covered, dishonoreth his head. But every woman that prayeth and prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoreth her head.

Explanation: Besides the fact that such a practice is not becoming for God's House, how many pages of our churches' Holy Gospels have been ruined by kissing with painted lips. How many church vessels, crosses, spoons, have been treated the same way. Look at our icons at the end of a service. They are covered with lipstick smears. Even the Holy Shroud, the Body of Christ, Who suffered for us, has been marred with lipstick.

Explanation: In Holy Communion we receive a great gift from God. We express our gratitude for God's great act of mercy through these thanksgiving prayers.

Explanation: The people who have not taken Holy Communion come up to the Cross immediately and receive a piece of antidoron, as a consolation that they were unable to take Holy Communion at this Liturgy. The communicants, without interruption, listen to the thanksgiving prayers and then venerate the Cross, since they have partaken of the True Gifts and have no need to receive the antidoron (which means "in place of the Gifts").

Following Holy Communion, we piously return home, retain a prayerful and peaceful disposition, do good works, and exert all our efforts not to return to the sins from which we have been cleansed.

Fr. Gregory, a graduate of Holy Trinity Seminary, is rector of Holy Protection Russian Orthodox Church in Rochester, NY. He and his matushka homeschool their two daughters.